Early access to superannuation for medical treatment

An article in Australian Doctor today draws attention to the potential for change to present processes allowing patients to access their superannuation to pay for medical treatments. The two main categories for the approval of early release on compassionate grounds in 2016‑17 were medical treatment and transport (around 72 per cent of funds approved for release), and mortgage payments (around 18 per cent of total funds approved).

Release on medical grounds has increased by around $205 million over the period since 2000-01, which is nearly a five‑fold increase compared to all other grounds of compassionate release.

In the period July to September 2016, around 56 per cent of approved medical ground applications were for bariatric surgery (1,857 applications) and around 7 per cent were for ART (239 applications).

Presently open for comment is an Australian Government (Treasury) discussion paper entitled Review of the early release of superannuation benefits.

Antony Scholefield writes:

Under the (present) rules, if a patient wants to access their super to pay for surgery, two doctors must sign off the application certifying that the treatment is necessary to:

  • Treat a life-threatening illness or injury
  • Alleviate acute or chronic pain
  • Alleviate an acute or chronic mental disturbance

The Treasury has suggested changing “alleviate” to “treat”, ruling out procedures that merely reduce the severity of symptoms instead of addressing the underlying cause.

Alternatively, it suggests the second two provisions should be struck out entirely, meaning that only life-threatening conditions could be treated under the scheme.

It has also suggested creating more oversight, or second opinions, to ensure doctors who sign off the applications are being objective in their assessment.



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