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Check eligibility for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

(Please note that we have edited this article from the original version after checking a detail on the eligibility calculation. See footnote at end).

Everyone is aware that age pensioners receive a Pensioner Concession Card with its considerable range of health benefits and discounts. Part pensioners also receive the card, even if they receive only a few dollars in pension per fortnight.

This is just one more incentive for retirees to arrange their affairs to be eligible for even a small part age pension.

What about the CSHC?

Many independent retirees incorrectly assume that, because they do not receive the age pension, they are not entitled to a health card. They may be unaware of the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC).

The CSHC provides a range of concessions due to a lower Medicare safety net and similar savings via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). It also offers bulk-billed doctor visits at the doctor’s discretion and the card allows retirees access to some state and territory concessions.

To qualify for the CSHC you must:

  • have reached the pension age, but not be receiving an age pension or any payment from Veterans Affairs
  • be an Australian resident living in Australia
  • meet an income test (there is no assets test).

For independent retirees, the important consideration is that Centrelink only uses an income test to determine eligibility for the card.

What's the income test?

To meet the income test, the assessable income must be below the following thresholds:

  • $57,761 for singles
  • $92,416 for couples
  • $115,522 for couples separated by illness, respite care or prison

Deeming is used in most Centrelink calculations of income in determining a range of benefits. It makes their calculations easier and discourages pensioners hiding assets in zero-interest bank accounts in order to maximise their pension.

The deeming rate was lowered again from 1 May 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The present deeming rate is 0.25% up to a threshold of $53,600 for singles and $89,000 for couples. Anything above these thresholds is deemed to earn 2.25%. The deeming rate is subject to periodic change by ministerial directive.

Please note we have changed the article to clarify which assets are 'deemed'. See detailed footnote at the end. While assets in an account-based pension are deemed, and accumulation assets in super are excluded, taxable income (not deemed income) is used for other financial assets outside super. Someone with substantial assets in super could still qualify for the CSHC.

With deeming rates so low, it means that retirees should check if they are eligible for the CSHC. Of course, if the deeming rate goes up again, those effective asset limits will be reduced.

Financial assets include anything that produces an income:

  • The market value of your super account-based pension
  • The market value of any other investments such as term deposits, investment properties, shares and managed funds, outside super

Financial assets do not include the family home or the market value of your super accumulation account because they do not produce an income stream.

Be aware that there are different thresholds for couples and singles. In the event of death, the surviving spouse will have a lower income threshold for card eligibility. Without careful planning, the survivor could lose their spouse and the benefits of this health card at the same time.

According to the Retirement Income Review Report, 71% of retirees over the pension age receive the age pension, either in full or in part. They would be eligible for the pension concession card automatically because the card is linked to the pension.

Of the remaining 29% of people of retirement age who are independent, their eligibility for the CSHC will depend on the size of their super account-based pension as well as their investments outside super such as investment properties, but not the value of their accumulation fund.

An unintended consequence of the Transfer Balance Cap which forced many people to limit their account-based pension to $1.6 million and forced the excess into an accumulation fund, is that this policy change may have made many more people eligible for the CSHC than might have been otherwise.

Spending in retirement

The Retirement Income Review Report noted that retirees could have a much more comfortable lifestyle if they were prepared to spend some of their capital in retirement, not just the income from that capital.

I argued in Firstlinks Edition 386 that independent retirees need to manage many risks in retirement that age pensioners do not. These risks include market risk, inflation risk and longevity risk. For independent retirees, the prudent response to managing risk is to hoard capital against an uncertain future rather than to spend it. As the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, where there is great uncertainty about the future, the rational response is to save rather than spend.

Age pensioners face minimal costs for health and age care. For independent retirees, arguably the most difficult risk to manage in retirement, is the financial cost of ill health because the timing, severity and financial impact of negative health events are so unpredictable and indiscriminate.

It suggests that, if we were serious about encouraging independent retirees to spend more of their capital, the government could take the risk of high medical expenses off the table by making the CSHC available to all retirees above a certain age, say age 75. That would give all retirees the confidence in knowing that, no matter what, their future health care costs would be contained.

The additional budgetary cost of this proposal would be small because such a high proportion of retirees, including self-funded retirees, is already eligible for a health card, but the benefit to retirees and their future planning would be the certain knowledge that it was one less risk for them to manage.

Based on announcements on 5 January 2022, the obtaining the CSHC has become more worthwhile. Up to 10 rapid antigen tests will be free for holders of this card (as well healthcare cards, low-income cards, pension concession cards and DVA cards, in total, 6.6 million people).


Jon Kalkman is a former director of the Australian Investors Association. This article is for general information purposes only and does not consider the circumstances of any investor. This article is based on an understanding of the rules at the time of writing.


Footnote: Due to the complexity of the calculation, we quote directly from the Services Australia website below.

You must meet an income test to get a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.

We review this test on 20 September each year in line with the Consumer Price Index.

The income test will look at both your:

To meet the income test, from 20 September 2021, you must earn no more than the following:

  • $57,761 a year if you’re single
  • $92,416 a year for couples
  • $115,522 a year for couples separated by illness, respite care or prison.

Add $639.60 to these amounts for each child in your care. There is no assets test. 

We use your adjusted taxable income to work out your eligibility for some payments or services.

Adjusted taxable income may include different types of income:

  • taxable income
  • foreign income
  • tax-exempt foreign income
  • total net investment losses
  • reportable fringe benefits
  • reportable superannuation contributions
  • certain tax free pensions or benefits.

It may also include a deemed amount from account based income streams.

If you have a partner, their income can also affect your adjusted taxable income.

Taxable income is your gross income minus allowable deductions. It’s the income you have to pay tax on. It includes income from:

  • wages and salaries
  • a business
  • investments
  • any taxable payments you get from us
  • any taxable payments you get from the Department of Veterans' Affairs
  • taxable COVID-19 payments you got, including Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program
  • capital gains, such as profit from the sale of shares or property.

Income under the tax free threshold counts as taxable income.

Please note that taxable income includes that which come from investments.

Accumulation account is not included as it does not provide an income stream





September 18, 2022

Is United States Social Security counted as foreign income when applying for the CSHC even though there is a tax agreement between USA and Australia?

August 10, 2022

I think all retirees should receive a pension card. The doctors near us don’t bulk bill CSHC holders

Richard newport
August 03, 2022

Hi I am 67.5 years of age. Gave up work in April this year Done and Dusted I read all the info but unfortunately i am still confused Who is the best person/s to speak to to just discuss going forwards Please if any suggestions Thank you Richard n

April 25, 2022

I'm trying to work out if my wife is eligible for the CSHC. What I am unclear about is the time-frame for the income test. Is it a forward-looking estimate (what she can expect to receive from now on) or backward-looking (for example, taxable income for the last financial year)? If forward-looking, she would certainly be eligible now. If backward-looking, e.g. based on the last financial year's tax statement, she would not, and would have to wait a whole year.

Secondly, what happens in our case where one spouse is over the pension age and the other is not yet? Is the claim only for the over-pension-age spouse or are both included in the income test?

Susan Joyce
April 23, 2022

Are you entitled to CSHC if you are on a bridging visa A? Thanks.

April 15, 2022

is there any advantage to moving from a low income health care card to the seniors health care card?

If so, should i apply a few weeks earlier than when Iam eligible to allow time for my application to move through the bureaucracy?

james pitt
April 05, 2022

Have just received first cshc card (age 67 no longer working , spouse 61 and working part-time) from centrelink in march 2022 with my name on the card only.
I expected to have both names on card as it was accessed as a family ?

My wife has a lot more scripts than me and here name on the card would be a benefit.
Has there been a mistake somewhere by centrelink

Barb Burdon
January 17, 2022

I have the Senior Health Care Card, and the uses for it for me are minimal. Doctor's, if you are fortunate may bulk bill, but at their discretion. I have no need for medication. I have found it came in handy, being a concession card, for Government subsidies, it meant that I got Covid 19 payment relief, also RAT tests are free also. I still work. 71. Specialists, Dentists dont want to know about it. It should be universal for everyone over 70. I use it more as an identity card.

December 26, 2021

I am self funded with cshc grandfathered
I beleive that the cshc should be granted to all free of income test, deeming say after age 75 (or 80)
The only benefit are scripts and GP.
Specialist are always top dollar, dental are fully priced
I think that those my age and over retiree will benefit in mind by this insurance

February 01, 2022

It seems a grandfathered CSHC prevents a self-funded retiree from undertaking full time work because this type of CSHC can’t be replaced?

Michael Hambrook
December 25, 2021

How do I get access to the Commonwealth Seniors Health ?
I am retired with no formal pension. I am now 81 years old.
Please tell me how to get it.

Thank you Michael Hambrook

December 25, 2021

"On the Front Line":

Jon Kalkman
December 25, 2021

You can apply for the card here.

Jon Kalkman
December 23, 2021

The CSHC was introduced by John Howard in the early 2000’s to give self-funded retirees access to some of the benefits enjoyed by age pensioners. It was always based on taxable income. Withdrawals from a super fund are not taxable and until 1 Jan 2015 weren’t captured by this calculation. When Tony Abbott instigated the Commission of Audit, this was changed so that the income from an account based pension is now deemed and added to the income calculation. Pensions started before that date are not deemed and are grandfathered until they are changed.

As seen from the amendment that Graham has added to the article, it is clear that the income counted is the adjusted taxable income plus the deemed income from an account based pension. I apologise for the confusion.

It is also clear that adjusted taxable income has a wide definition and the result will depend very much on individual circumstances. Therefore it is not possible to give a standard answer that applies to everyone. My suggestion is that if in doubt, apply, (painful as that might be) and get a definitive answer rather than your best guess and possibly miss out when you could be eligible.

December 23, 2021

There is now considerable debate about whether Centrelink counts the actual income from investments outside super or uses the deemed income from those investments. I have previously seen Noel Whittaker quote the $4million figure for couples, suggesting it is all deemed and I know they only use deemed income for the age pension but now I can’t find Noel’s comment.

According to the Centrelink website, taxable income includes income from investments outside super and deeming only applies to super account based pensions.

December 23, 2021

I wouldn't worry about itJon.Centrelink complexity and constant changes are not your fault.I wasn't expecting a CSHC and thought the tax form would override anything else.
BUT ( always a but) in keeping with the birthday boy ,happy birthday Graham,and when I'm 64.

"Indicate precisely what you mean to say..... :-)
Cue Chris Rea for what Centrelink would tell me "It's all gone ( ain't nothing for you here boy)"
Introducing Pete,Roger,John and Keith
Won't get fooled again, it could end up as a Legal matter,as long as the Kids are alright.

When It's all too much ( Steve Hillage via the Beatles) , a warm welcome to Frank (Zappa) ( moving to) Montana. I can raise me a crop of dental floss With a little help from my friends ( Joe cocker of course )
Come in Dean ( Martin)
Little ole wine drinker me ( hic).
I enjoy your articles,keep them coming

Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New year to everybody.

Joseph Calleja
December 23, 2021

I understood that Centrelink took the Adjusted Taxable Amount of the most recent Tax year (which includes the actual amount of dividends and distributions received - not deemed) to which is added ACTUAL amount drawn down from super pension balances (again not deemed). However I also receive a pension from the State Government's ESSS Scheme and I understood the non-taxable component of this pension is also added. Under this system we have been ineligible but if the super amounts are actually deemed we might be eligible. I concur that the application process is very difficult and confusing and Centrelink staff do not seem to want to help anyone applying because the are not clear explaining what is needed.

Sharon Osborn
December 30, 2021

Hi Joseph, you may submit either of the two prior financial years.
In regards to super pension balances it is only the deemed income based on the balance of your Account Based Pension that will be counted in the CSHC assessment. If you are receiving a Defined Benefit pension from ESSS this will not be counted. There will be potentially required supporting documents to be submitted with CSHC such as Notice of Assessment, Tax Returns and Centrelink Schedules for your ABP.

December 23, 2021

I think that there should be a universal aged pensions paid equally to everyone, no gender or any other discrimination, no deeming or asset test. This would be added to any income that assets or labour produced and if it exceeded the tax-free threshold then the 'recipient ' would pay tax. ["The tax-free threshold refers to how much you can earn in financial year before you are liable to pay tax. For Australian residents the tax-free threshold is currently $18,200, meaning the first $18,200 of your income is tax free, but you are taxed progressively on income above that amount."] For the 'poor' there would be no action required and no consequences ! For the 'wealthy' there would be additional tax to pay......again , either way , of little or no consequence. Thus 'fairness' and 'justice' and 'equality' would be seen to be done and there may be some savings in that less bureaucrats 'may' be needed, and the 'extra pension received would be taxed' and that tax would be returned to the government coffers for 'redistribution'. Pensioners need never worry about runing out of money as so many SMSF have to do at present.

Ramon Vasquez
December 25, 2021

Agreed !

Best wishes , Ramon .

December 23, 2021

The income test will consider both:

adjusted taxable income
deemed income from all financial assets including super account-based income streams

The above is from this article.
I believe the only deeming that happens is on super account-based income streams.

Helen Schindler
December 23, 2021

My understanding is that income from shares, real estate etc outside super is counted towards assessable taxable limit, plus you add to that the amount deemed earned from super. In otherwords, I do not apply deeming to assets producing income shown on tax return. Is this correct? Also where is it mentioned that super pensions commenced prior to 1.1.2015 are exempt from deeming?

No incentive to be anything but a pensioner with an account based pension under the limit to allow you a full pension, plus added income and benefits. No account keeping and fees, taxation obligations and taxes, always regular and consistent income with the sound knowledge that what is spent this fortnight will be replenished.

December 23, 2021

Your first paragraph is also my understanding Helen They add them together.The explaination from Jon is general and probably goes into the splitting hairs box,advice needed from centrelink for a definitive answer which will probably be 'computer says no".

Now dealing with the ATO ( bangs head against wall repeatedly),I can speak to somebody,they are good ,we have a laugh,they are being recorded so know what they can say They really try to help but are bound by what computer says .

On my days on the skills for hire circuit,live and work in different cultures,try to pick up a bit of various languages I qualified for a small UK pension through NICs contributions.This has an undeducted purchase price which is question 20 in the supplementary section and the deduction at D11. I made a mistake,instead of putting the income in say 20B,I put it in 20A,which is a very slight difference to a person,a hanging offence to a computer that says no .Everything is still the same,taxable income,tax deductions.The deduction is disallowed,I overpay tax by $100 in a round number.
Call them,nobody knows why the deduction is disallowed,but they try to help,and we have a laugh.Computer says put an objection in,redo the whole form,explain why I am objecting,and they will make a decision in the fullness of time.Perhaps I may get $100 by next Christmas.One minute on the phone and a yes,I can see what you ( me) have done,that's a simple fix,you won't make that mistake again,and we have a laugh.
Aren't computers wonderful,where would we be without them ( still banging head against wall)

December 23, 2021

My wife and I have obtained our cards, but I literally had to devote a whole day to the identification and application process. It is quite a confusing process and because Australia doesn't appear to have a universal identification system (I'm starting to hate the phrase 'privacy considerations') we have to reidentify ourselves to Centrelink and then seperately to one or more other government departments.. and if something doesn't quite match eg. middle name/initial then the process has to start again. Tip.. they don't like lapsed passports.
Having said that, the card has been useful for prescriptions and bulk-billed doctor's appointments.

December 23, 2021

I migrated to Australia with my family as a young child in 1951. After 70 years I feel I am almost a local. Applying for the CSHS was tricky as I don’t have an Australian birth certificate. I had to establish my identity with passport and citizenship papers . This was the first time I was ever asked for the name of the migrant ship in which we travelled and the date of arrival in Australia. That took some finding.
That may sound irksome, but you have to remember that as an independent retiree, this was my first ever contact with Centrelink, so they had to make sure I was who I claimed to be.
My suggestion - get all that information prepared before you start the application.

December 23, 2021

Harder than getting a passport! And one discount only - prescriptions!

December 22, 2021

If Centrelink was actually there to help you instead of putting difficulties in your way there would be a lot more people apply for this card they make it so difficult.

December 22, 2021

Perhaps they do help but you need to speak to someone.I never bothered and didn't know that deeming rates had been reduced.I thought they were still around 3%.
Imagine if it was as easy as
"G'day mate,my understanding is $4M at 2.25% is $90K,therefore I qualify under deeming for the CSHC".
"Yes you do,give us a bit of proof,fill the forms in,and we'll get the card out to you"
Imagine if you could get to talk to somebody.Imagine if they decided simplicity was far better than complexity.
Nice pipe dream isn't it

December 22, 2021

The whole thing is confusing,or I don't understand it.
On the income test we fail,income is well over the $92.4 K and is duly recorded on the tax forms that still need to be filled in, and the tax paid is the franking credits.Refund or PAYG tax as determined by the ATO on the marginal bands.
Then the deeming bit comes in .Suppose the shares are outside of super,which they are.$4million,@5% is a gross income of $200K,recorded on tax forms.Should this be deemed then it would be touch and go whether we get under the $92.4K.
The system seems to be based on super only,and an ABP,and perhaps an investment property.
On the rare occasion when I check things on the Centrelink website it still seems to be the income test that knocks us out.Doing the test on the web site there is no deeming,it is just you get nothing,was this card helpful.The system seems to be they choose whether to use adjusted income,or deemed income.
Perhaps I need to call a FISO and get a definitive answer

Greg Barrie
December 22, 2021

The CSHC doesn’t really take the risk of high medical expenses off the table. You save about $40 on each PBS prescription but that’s about it. No help with private health insurance or the cost of private knee and hip replacements.

December 22, 2021

Agree. CSHC provides very minimal benefits. Some specialist will discount for age pensioners but will they do the same for CSHC holders?

December 23, 2021

The card is useful for prescriptions and bulk-billed appointments at GP.

December 22, 2021

Single: = (57761 - (0.25% * 53600)) / 2.25% + 53600 ; = 2614800
Couple: = (92416 - (0.25% * 89000)) / 2.25% + 89000 ; = 4186488
Separated: = (115522 - (0.25% * 89000)) / 2.25% + 89000 ; = 5213422

For most, eat much less and walk much more while capable saves more for longer than the CSHC benefits and reduces demands on capital.

December 22, 2021

'For most, eat much less and walk much more while capable saves more for longer than the CSHC benefits and reduces demands on capital.'

Couldn't agree more

December 27, 2021

Mac : You say "'For most, eat much less and walk much more while capable....'
I take it that YOU are NOT a "Big Mac" then !!?

Ron Herron
December 22, 2021

The last two paragraphs describes what is happening with independent retirees line of thought. Uncertainty about what the future holds creates this mindset of saving funds "just in case". As you quite rightly point out, the costs to the taxpayer would be minimal and the wealth that these independents are holding onto would be released into the commercial world for the greater benefit through money going around if this worry was eliminated.

December 22, 2021

Another issue is that the cost of entering Aged Care is means tested for both the entry bond and daily fee. Both give incentive to spend retirement savings.


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