Free COVID RAT program for concession cardholders to end next month

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.

A health worker shows a positive ‘SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen’ test just after taking a nasal swab sample for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) at the coronavirus testing center at Unisante, the university center of general medicine and public health, in Lausanne, Switzerland, Monday, November 9, 2020. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP) (AP)

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.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21: A COVID-19 testing clinic sign at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on January 21, 2022 in Sydney, Australia.  NSW has recorded 46 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, marking the state's deadliest day since the pandemic began.  NSW also recorded 25,168 new coronavirus infections in the last 24-hour reporting period.  (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

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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.”

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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.

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