QUESTION: Ambulance Services

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Health and Wellbeing what steps he is taking to bring South Australia in line with the other states and provide free ambulance services to aged pensioners.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Seven months ago, the Council on the Ageing wrote to the Minister for Health and carbon copied myself, Mr Chris Picton in another place, as well as the SA Ambulance Service, in a letter that included the following:

Dear Minister Wade

I bring to your attention an anomaly between South Australia and the other states and territories in relation to access by age pensioners to free ambulance travel. We are advised that South Australia is now the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not afford free ambulance travel to people in receipt of an aged pension…

We understand that work is being undertaken within your portfolio to review the funding for the South Australian Ambulance Service…[Council on the Ageing] SA urges you to bring SA into line with other states and territories by providing free ambulance services to South Australian holders of pensioner concession cards and Commonwealth Seniors…cards.

I note that the only discount available to aged pensioners is if they purchase, effectively, the ambulance subscription that many people are used to buying. That costs $52.50 for a single pensioner or $104 for a couple. If you want that cover to extend interstate, the prices are $68.30 and $135.50.

Of course, if you don't have ambulance cover and you are in the unfortunate position to need an ambulance for transport, you will be up for at least $1,025 plus the mileage cost.

My question of the Minister is:

What steps is the Minister taking to bring South Australia in line with the other states and provide free ambulance services to aged pensioners?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I thank the honourable member for his question. I would just clarify that it's not a situation where there is great uniformity around Australia in terms of the way the ambulance services are funded. My recollection is that New South Wales significantly funds theirs through a levy on private health insurers—insurance companies. Queensland and Tasmania have actually gone to universal ambulance cover, so that certainly covers pensioners.

As well as making the ambulance cover scheme available, the SA Ambulance Service is acutely aware of maintaining access to health services and has financial hardship provisions and other arrangements to support access. Certainly, the Treasurer and I have talked about the ongoing needs of the Ambulance Service and, of course, the user-pays aspects. That includes ambulance cover. They all feed into that long-term planning.

I acknowledge the honourable member's reference to the Council on the Ageing. I appreciate that COTA and others would want us to be considering making ambulance trips free for older South Australians. It would be at a significant cost. It would need to be properly considered. My recollection, for example, is that in the last year alone there has been an 8 per cent increase in people over the age of 90 going to EDs. As our community ages, it will put pressure on our health system, and that includes the Ambulance Service.