Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Questions on Notice

Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (Question No. 679)

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration) Share this | | Hansard source

asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 6 June 2011:

With reference to the answer given to question on notice E11-050 asked during the 2010-11 additional estimates hearing of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee in regard to reciprocal health care agreements (RHCAs) for 410 visa holders, which states 'b) The Department considered the usual circumstances of all 410 visa holders, prompted by a particular case, in making this decision':

(1) Without compromising the confidentiality of any individual in the particular case, and with any necessary personal identifiers removed:

(a) what were the full details and exact circumstances of the particular case which subsequently led the department to make the decision to apply a policy change to all 410 visa holders;

(b) how can 'the usual circumstances of all 410 visa holders' best be described or defined;

(c) are there any circumstances of any subgroups within the total 410 visa cohort which differ from 'the usual circumstances of all 410 visa holders'; if so, how can these best be described or defined; and

(d) are there any other temporary visas whose visa holders have the same usual circumstances of 410 visa holders; if so, which visas.

(2) In regard to the answer given to part (e) of the same question which states: 'e) Yes. Holders of Temporary Business (Long Stay) – Standard Business Sponsorship (Subclass 457) are eligible for health care under the terms of the relevant RHCA';

(a) if the 457 visa allows a temporary stay for a period of up to 4 years (with the possibility of renewal for periods of up to 4 years) and the 410 visa allowed an initial temporary stay in Australia of 4 years, with (at the time of the change in policy in 1998) the possibility of renewal for a further period of only 2 years, how does the 457 visa not imply an intention to take up residence in Australia, when a retirement visa strongly implies an intention to take up residence in Australia; and

(b) how is it possible for a 457 visa holder to work in Australia for 4 years or more without taking up residence here.

(3) How and why does the department differentiate the eligibility for RHCA benefits between two classes of temporary visa (457 and 410) both of which have similar limited and finite periods of temporary residence, given that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has been very clear in its description of the 410 retirement visa, insisting that its purpose was to allow people of retirement age 'to spend some of their retirement years in Australia'.

(4) Which other temporary visas, other than the 457 visa, allow eligibility for RHCA Medicare benefits for visa holders who originate from countries with RHCAs with Australia.

(5) Given that, in a reply to British Expat Retirees in Australia (BERIA) the department stated that a retirement visa strongly implies an intention to take up residence in Australia, suggesting that the department classes all 410 visa holders as intending to live 'permanently' in Australia, despite the fact that a temporary visa does not allow permanent residency, merely temporary residency for the length of the visa, and in fact, many BERIA members spend only short periods of time in Australia, some no longer than allowed by a tourist visa, why then do these 410 visa holders not qualify for RHCA benefits.

(6) Given that 410 visa holders applying for parent visas are now allowed to retain their 410 visa rather than accepting a bridging visa, yet they immediately qualify for RHCA benefits from the time their parent visa application is made to the time they receive their parent visas (which could be up to 15 years), why do these 410 visa holders suddenly become eligible one day, when the previous day they were ineligible, even though their visa status remains exactly the same.

(7) Can details be provided as to who pays the costs of the RHCA and how and when this is paid (i.e. is the agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom (UK) the same as the European Health Insurance Card agreement where each country bills the other for the reciprocal health care costs incurred by their nationals in the other country, or is it a different model).

(8) An RHCA guarantees full health care benefits in one country and basic health care benefits while 'visiting' the other country, however the 1998 decision referred to in the answer to question on notice E11-050 subpart (a), denied reciprocal health care benefits to 410 visa holders in Australia because they were deemed 'resident' here (the department classes 410 visa holders as resident in Australia) and as a result they are denied the normal health care benefits in the UK for which UK residents are eligible: Given that 410 visa holders are treated as 'visitors' if they return to the UK for a temporary stay, how can 410 visa holders access government subsidised healthcare services when Australia deems them to be ineligible for Medicare and the UK deems them ineligible for the National Health Service.

(9) Does the eligibility for reciprocal Medicare benefits for parent visa applicants, whether on bridging visas or on 410 visas, apply to both the Parent (Migrant) Visa (Subclass 103) and the Aged Parent (Residence) Visa (Subclass 804).

(10) Are Temporary Business (Long Stay)–Standard Business Sponsorship (Subclass 457) visa holders deemed by the department to be still resident in their countries of origin; if so, why; if not, why not.

(11) Are parent visa applicants, whether on bridging visas or on 410 visas, deemed by the department to be still resident in their countries of origin; if so, why; if not, why not.

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) (a) The holders of a 410 visa moved to Australia in 1996 from the United Kingdom.

On moving to Australia, the holders objected to being liable to pay the Medicare Levy. They argued that they did not fall within the scope of Medicare or the RHCA, as they had ceased to be residents of the United Kingdom on their retirement to Australia. They asserted that as the RHCA did not apply to them, they should not be treated as eligible persons under the legislation, and should be exempted from paying the Medicare Levy.

More recently, the situation of 410 visa holders has been raised with the Department of Health and Ageing by several stakeholders, including the British Expat Retirees in Australia (BERIA), and in response the Department has been reviewing the 1998 policy and its impact on visa holders. This review is ongoing.

(b) 410 visa holders are people who have agreed to the conditions of a 410 visa, including that they are (a) self-funding and (b) must provide for their own health care costs through health insurance, which must be adequate, in that it provides cover that is at least equivalent to Medicare benefits and covers pharmaceuticals.

(c) The Minister does not have access to substantive evidence about all the various circumstances of subgroups of 410 visa holders. However, it is believed that all 410 visa holders are made aware of the visa condition that they must provide for their own health care costs through holding adequate health insurance while in Australia.

(d) Yes. The circumstances applying to 410 visa holders regarding visa conditions also apply in essence to holders of the Investor Retirement (Subclass 405) visa.

(2) (a) to (b) The Department is not aware that there is any prescribed period of time that is determinative of whether a person is 'resident' in a country. It should be noted that the Minister for Immigration is responsible for policy and legal requirements attaching to different visas.

(3) The conditions attaching to the two visas regarding health care are different.

(4) Temporary visas, other than 405 and 410 retirement visas, enable their holders to access relevant Medicare benefits under an applicable RHCA.

(5) The Department understands that 410 visa holders were aware of the conditions of their 410 visa, and accepted those conditions, before they obtained it. If an individual seeking to travel to Australia wished to be eligible for RHCA benefits, he or she had the option at the time of considering another visa which would have allowed access to such benefits.

(6) Holders of 410 visas who apply for the 804 parent visa attain eligibility under an applicable RHCA due to their status as applicants for a permanent residency visa.

(7) Australia's RHCAs are based on a cost waiver principle, where each country fully absorbs the costs of providing health care to visitors, and no financial adjustment takes place. The cost waiver type of agreement is the alternative to the agreement model used in European Union countries, which involves monitoring and administration for the purpose of reimbursing medical costs.

(8) The Government cannot provide advice on the eligibility requirements of the United Kingdom's National Health Service.

(9) Yes.

(10) There is no 'deeming' process undertaken by the Department.

(11) There is no 'deeming' process undertaken by the Department.