Australia Patient Assisted Travel Scheme extends to Airbnb, land and air travel, amid reimbursement complaints

03:56  30 october  2020
03:56  30 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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3 What is PATS? The Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) provides permanent country Air travel Air travel is provided when the journey to the nearest specialist is more than 16 hours (one You are receiving treatment for cancer. Approval has been given to extend your stay by one or two

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a truck that is driving down the street: Regional patients have largely welcomed the changes, but say more needs to be done. (ABC News: Dean Faulkner) © Provided by ABC Health Regional patients have largely welcomed the changes, but say more needs to be done. (ABC News: Dean Faulkner)

Regional patients have welcomed a broadening of eligibility criteria to receive South Australia's Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS) subsidies, including Airbnb accommodation and help for carers who travel separately to an emergency patient.

However, some say the suite of changes, which come into effect on Monday, do not address ongoing delays to reimbursements from the scheme and difficulties accessing specialists.

PATS allows regional patients to claim Government subsidies for travel and accommodation when receiving health care more than 100 kilometres from their home, when not available closer.

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Subsidised for actual distance travelled

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the new measures were part of the Government's ongoing commitment to improving the program.

Mr Wade said other changes included PATS-eligible patients being able to claim transport subsidies for the actual distance travelled, "rather than having the distance calculated to the Adelaide GPO".

"There'll also be an additional subsidy which will be provided to patients needing to travel over 100 kilometres to reach an airport when they are medically authorised to fly," he said.

Previously, regional patients who had to fly were not subsidised for their land travel.

"That will be particularly relevant on the Eyre Peninsula," the minister said.

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He said parents and carers who were travelling with patients interstate would now be allowed to work and be eligible for the scheme.

"We appreciate often these stays can be extended and we want to support those who are supporting our patients," Mr Wade said.

Last year, the Government lifted restrictions on the number of nights allowed to claim accommodation, and requirements to travel directly.

Delays, office closures affect claims

Despite welcoming the changes, a number of regional patients said the system was slow to process claims, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kate, who preferred not use her last name, is a resident in the regional city of Port Augusta.

"I've given up even trying to deal with PATS," she said.

"They closed their offices around April and I couldn't even ring any of their phone numbers."

She said her lodged claims were declined because she was unable to contact the scheme with extra information needed to process them.

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"Apparently that was due to me not providing extra information in under six months — which was kind of hard when their offices and phone lines were closed many times when I tried to contact them between April and July," she said.

Kate said she had given up on getting her fuel reimbursed by the scheme.

"Not worth the hassle for a bit of fuel money," she said.

"I really feel for the people that rely on that fuel money because they are in a worse situation than I am."

Specialist access 'very limited'

Another Port Augusta resident, Heather Hancock, was among a number of people the ABC spoke to who experienced problems with PATS rules around subsidised access to specialists.

She said among the "very strict rules" was around the need to use the closest specialist.

Ms Hancock said many places had "very limited visits by specialists to the local area".

"I was referred to both an orthopaedic surgeon and the 'closest' endocrinologist," she said.

"I couldn't book appointments with either as they are fully booked this year, and they're not yet taking appointments for 2021.

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Air travel and borders are shutting down, meaning that guests may not even be able to make it to the cities and countries of their intended stays. Essentially, AirBnB is between a rock and a hard place, just like many other companies trying to navigate our current unprecedented global cancel culture.

"I'm sure that if I was prepared to wear the costs of travel to Adelaide I could easily have an appointment with either type of specialist within a month."

Last year, the Government changed the scheme such that terminal patients were not required to change specialist if a specialist became available closer.

Reducing 100km limit under consideration

Mr Wade said the changes were part of more improvements to the scheme that are under consideration.

"We'll shortly be issuing a new set of guidelines which we hope will be much more user friendly and help people understand the support that's available to them," he said.

He said the Government would also consider reducing the 100-kilometre minimum travel requirement for treatment and access to the scheme.

Mr Wade indicated lifting the fuel subsidy rate from 16 cents per kilometre was also an option.

"Issues such as the subsidy rate are definitely on the radar. We've got a whole list of possible changes that the Government will be looking at as son as time goes on," he said.

"We've indicated, from early in our term, that we would be looking at a wave of reforms."

The 16 cent subsidy rate has attracted criticism for not reflecting current fuel prices.

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