Are you over 65? Find out what you need to know about seniors health insurance.
Looking after yourself in later life is about taking charge of your health. You can achieve this through a healthy diet and exercise, by accessing all the age benefits you’re entitled to and by having adequate seniors health insurance.
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What does health insurance for over 65s cover?
Despite our best efforts, our health issues increase as we age, so having access to health care in later life is very important. The only way to ensure this access is to have adequate health insurance, which is where over 65s health insurance comes in. This type of insurance is for those over 65 and usually includes cover for the following:
- A private or shared room in a private or public hospital
- Ambulance fees
- Theatre fees
- Cardio Thoracic (heart/chest) care
- Intensive Care fees
- Inpatient pharmaceutical drugs
- Non-cosmetic eye surgery
- Joint replacement
- Psychiatric treatment and care
- Bone marrow transplant
- Organ transplant
- Visits to your GP
- Visits to emergency departments
- Palliative care
If necessary, you can add extras cover for optical, dental, physiotherapy and other services to an over 65s health insurance policy.
Why get seniors health insurance?
Once you turn 65, the government considers you a senior and you may be eligible for a Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card. You may have already had private health insurance for many years, but it may be worth reviewing your circumstances and considering seniors health insurance. There are several reasons why seniors health insurance might be right for you:
- Your health priorities are changing and rather than having cover for things like pregnancy, you now need cover for hip replacements, cardiac surgery and cataract removals.
- Your personal circumstances are changing and you now need singles or couples health cover as your children are no longer living at home.
- People over 65 receive a higher than average government rebate on private seniors health insurance and an even higher rebate when they’re over 70.
Am I entitled to a rebate?
No matter what age you are, if your income falls below a certain threshold, you will receive a rebate from the Australian government to help reduce the cost of your private health insurance premiums. Once you pass the age of 65, the rebate amount you are eligible to receive actually increases, which means you pay even less towards your private health cover. However, if you’re a high income earner, your age doesn’t matter since you won’t be eligible to receive any government rebate.
The private health insurance rebate allows you to access a higher level of cover than you might otherwise be able to afford. The older you are, the more health risks you’re likely to face, so a higher level of health insurance cover can help reduce the financial impact of expensive medical costs.
The following are the applicable rebate levels from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017:
What is the rebate for those over 65?
< Age 65
< Age 65
Medicare Levy Surcharge (MLS)
What are my home care options?
As you get older, living at home can become increasingly difficult. If you need to get some additional care to help you stay in your own home, there are three options available:
- Local council support. Known as the Commonwealth Home Support Program (or as Home and Community Care services in Victoria and Western Australia), this option offers basic support services to those with minimal care needs. As an example, you may only require fortnightly cleaning or shopping trips. To qualify for this type of care, you will need to have moderate, severe or profound (functional) disabilities that make it difficult to perform specified daily living tasks.
- Home Care Packages. Also known as Consumer Directed Care Packages, these provide a co-ordinated package of services as well as a case manager or adviser if required. The services offered vary according to your needs and will help you stay safe and maintain your independence in your own home. Services include assistance with bathing and dressing, cleaning the house, gardening, washing and ironing clothes, home maintenance and shopping assistance as well as nursing and physiotherapy services. You may also get assistance with travel to and from your doctor's office.
- Private home care agencies. These services do not receive any government funding and you will need to pay for them yourself. The services available differ from one home care agency to the next, so contact the agencies in your local area to find out what level of care is available.
Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card income test
The Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card is a concession card available to Australian residents aged 65 and over who don’t qualify for an age pension or Veterans’ Affairs pension. It provides the following range of concessions:
- Bulk-billed appointments with GPs depending on the doctor
- Increased Medicare Safety Net benefits
- Discounted prescriptions from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
- Various concessions from state government and private businesses
There is no asset test for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card, but there is an income test. To qualify for a card, a single senior’s adjusted taxable income must be less than $51,500 p.a. and a couple’s less than $82,400 p.a.
Adjusted taxable income (ATI) is defined as follows:
- Taxable income
- Fringe benefits
- Pension payments or other benefits
- Foreign income
- Reportable super contributions
- Investment losses
- Child support
The government introduced the Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card in 1994 to encourage people to self-fund their retirement. With the income test threshold remaining the same since 2001, the government has now committed to indexing the threshold every year to reflect cost of living increases.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that leads to pain and swelling in the joints. While the white blood cells and antibody proteins in your blood are supposed to fight off infection, when you have rheumatoid arthritis they attack your joints instead. Swelling and tenderness result from the associated inflammation in affected joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the body’s smaller joints, such as those in the hands, wrists and feet. However, larger joints in the knee and hip can also be affected. Over time, this inflammation of the joints can lead to thinning of the cartilage that covers the end of your bones, possibly leading to the bones being eroded away.
While doctors still don’t know what causes rheumatoid arthritis, it occurs more commonly in people who are smokers or who have a family history of the disease. Following a physical examination to diagnose the condition, your doctor may also conduct x-rays and blood tests to determine how much damage has been caused to your joints.
The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis varies depending on the specific nature of your condition, and your doctor can tailor a management plan that may include the following:
- Medications to relieve your symptoms or slow the progress of the disease
- Heat treatment, such as heat packs
- Cold treatment, such as cold packs or a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device
- Complementary therapies, such as massage or acupuncture
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects around 70% of people who suffer from dementia. The disease attacks brain cells, nerves and the neurotransmitters that transmit information to and from the brain, affecting the way your brain functions. This leads to impaired memory and thinking processes as well as behavioural issues.
While doctors are unsure of the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease, your chances of developing the disease may be increased by the following:
- A family history of the condition
- Having suffered severe head injuries in the past
- Lifestyle factors
- Vascular disease
The following are some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Frequent memory difficulties, especially involving recent events
- Speech problems, for example struggling to find the right words
- Difficulty understanding questions or instructions
- Mood swings and personality changes
- Forgetting people or places
- Taking longer to perform routine everyday activities
Although a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear, there are several things you can do that may help delay the onset of the condition. Eating a balanced diet and cutting down on smoking and alcohol can help, while regular health tests from your doctor are a must. Keeping as active as possible, both mentally and physically, is also beneficial.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but research into the condition is continuing.
Healthy eating for over 60s
As well as having seniors health insurance, another way to insure yourself against ill health in later life is to improve your diet. A balanced diet will keep you healthier for longer and should include the following:
- Plenty of fruit and veggies
- Wholegrain varieties of bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
- Milk and dairy foods
- Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
Your diet should include fibre-rich foods, which can help with constipation and digestion problems, as well as calcium-rich foods to help avoid osteoporosis, zinc-rich foods to boost your immune system and iron-rich foods for general good health. You should also use less salt, which can raise your blood pressure, and make sure you get enough vitamin D and not too much vitamin A (no more than 1.5 mg per day).
For maximum wellbeing, a healthy diet should also be accompanied by a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise will help to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. You should also eat three times a day, stay well hydrated and avoid too much caffeine or alcohol.
Lowering your blood pressure
Another way to improve your health in later life is to have healthy blood pressure. More than 25% of adults have high blood pressure and more than 50% of those are over 60. High blood pressure means an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, so if you suffer from high blood pressure, you might benefit by trying some of these methods for lowering it.
- Exercise. Be active for at least half an hour of moderate-intensity exercise five times a week (ie, walking, swimming, cycling or dancing).
- Balanced diet. Eat a balanced diet combining the five food groups and reduce your intake of sugar and saturated fats.
- Reduce your salt intake. Don’t add salt to food and look for processed foods containing less salt.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Drink no more than two standard drinks on any given day.
- Quit smoking. If you have high blood pressure, smoking increases your risk of heart disease as well as other health problems.
Our eyes are another area where we need to be vigilant in order to ensure healthy vision for longer. The following are some useful eye health tips for seniors:
- Have regular eye exams to ensure your eyes are healthy and if you wear glasses, make sure you have an up-to-date prescription.
- Eat a balanced diet to help protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Wear sunglasses with UV filters to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.
- Exercise regularly, as good circulation and oxygen intake are important for eye health.
- Quit smoking, as this increases your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Maintain a healthy weight, as obesity can cause diabetes, which can lead to vision loss.
- Use good lighting to avoid straining your eyes, particularly for reading and close work.
- Get plenty of sleep, which helps to clean and lubricate your eyes.
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