Holders of the discount card will no longer have access to free rapid antigen tests from next month.
Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed on 3AW on Tuesday that the program would end at the end of July.
Butler said now was “about the right time” to do so.
The scheme was first introduced in January amid shortages and price spikes and meant those eligible could receive 10 free RATs every three months.
“The price has come down significantly. They were an average of $25 per test if you could get them in January, now down to about $8 per test,” Butler said.
“Retirees and concession cardholders can still get their allowance for up to 10 tests before the end of this month, which should see them through for some time.”
Butler said some state governments are providing free rapid tests to people visiting high-risk settings such as aged care facilities and hospitals.
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“There are still free RATs, there are so many RATs in the community right now, and state governments are providing them for free.”
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia said ending the program would put vulnerable Australians at risk.
“The pandemic is not over and the threat of serious illness is still there for many vulnerable people in our communities,” said PSA Chairman Dr. Fei Sim.
“Testing remains a critical part of our response to COVID-19.
“While recognizing that our test-trace-isolate approach has changed since the program launched in January, testing with even mild symptoms remains an expectation of all members of the community.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has also warned that the move will affect many low-income Australians.
“This is especially important for people with high risk factors such as underlying health conditions, those facing situations where the risk of transmission is high, and patients who cannot be vaccinated,” the agency said. Adjunct Professor Karen Price, President of the RACGP.
“We cannot only provide health care to those who can afford it, accessibility for vulnerable low-income groups is vital.”
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Price said if people couldn’t access RATs, then “the entire healthcare system would be under even more immense pressure.”
“In order to access clinical care pathways for COVID-19 in the community, including recently expanded antiviral treatments, it is necessary to have a positive test,” she said.