Recently I have had a number of calls from residents, including a nurse yesterday, who was very distressed about information she had heard about changes to ambulance fees for pensioners and healthcare card holders. She was told that these patients would no longer get free non-emergency ambulance patient transport in clinically necessary cases. We now know that these changes were very quietly introduced at the start of July by the Napthine government and the Minister for Health. According to the Department of Health guidelines, the free transport will no longer apply where the individual is being transported from a private healthcare facility or the individual initiates a transport from one hospital to another hospital of their own choice — for example, to receive care from a preferred physician.
No wonder these changes were introduced quietly.
The changes will impact on people who are often older, disadvantaged and ill, so they are already vulnerable, and they are the least likely to be able to afford bills of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for ambulance transport.
It is important to note that this is transport by ambulance that is deemed to be clinically needed for these patients. As the nurse said, there is a very real concern that patients without ambulance cover will put themselves at risk by taking private transport. These changes may also see public hospitals under added pressure, with increased demand as people choose to avoid treatment at private facilities for fear of the enormous costs if they need an ambulance.
The Napthine government should reverse this unfair decision that affects sick, vulnerable people on low incomes in Bellarine and across Victoria.