Access to RATs inconsistent across Australia

Posted 1 year ago by Liz Alderslade
Free access to Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) has become incredibly inconsistent from each State to Territory. [Source: iStock]
Free access to Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) has become incredibly inconsistent from each State to Territory. [Source: iStock]

The Victorian Government has extended its program of free Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) for people with disability to cover the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as temporary measures introduced by the Federal Government are due to be scaled back.

People with disability living in Victoria will be able to access up to 20 free RATs from testing clinics or Disability Liaison Officers until the end of September.

However, the Federal Government’s program that is handing out RATs to Supported Independent Living (SIL) residents and workers is due to end on 31 July and providers will no longer be able to claim $12.50 per RAT from a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant’s plan from 31 August.

The Federal Government’s removal of these temporary measures will mean support providers and people with disability will have to bear the cost of purchasing the tests commercially.

In SIL environments, where multiple people with disability live and receive supports from a range of different workers each week, RATs are used to prevent the spread of the virus to residents and to prevent workers from spreading it to multiple sites.

These residents could also be more medically vulnerable to COVID-19 and are unlikely to be able to fully isolate to protect themselves from catching the virus.

Victorian Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, Colin Brooks, says the extension of the State’s free RAT program will ensure everyone with disability – not just SIL residents – have access to tests to keep themselves and their loved ones safe over winter.

“Early detection of COVID-19 helps protect people from serious illness by ensuring earlier diagnosis and treatment – and this is especially so for the most vulnerable in our community who experience its effects more harshly,” says Minister Brooks.

“We are continuing to provide free rapid antigen tests for people who need them most, supporting Victorians with disability to stay safe during the coming winter months.”

In Victoria, the free RATs can be accessed by anyone with an NDIS plan, as well as those that receive the Disability Support Pension or Transport Accident Commission benefit.

Although these are available to be picked up by people with disability or carers from State-run testing clinics, if getting to a clinic is not possible Disability Liaison Officers can also work out another way to distribute the tests.

The New South Wales Government is continuing a similar program through which people with disability and those who are immunocompromised can access free RATs.

These tests are being distributed through NDIS providers and organisations working with the Department of Communities and Justice, as well as community centres.

The NSW Government’s recommendation is for people to collect the number of RATs they need, that being at least two a week.

In addition to the State based disability programs, people who are classified as close contacts can still receive free RATs – although this may not be available in all States and Territories.

Services Australia also has a program for concession card holders to receive a maximum of five RATs a month through pharmacies, but this is limited to ten RATs over three months per person.

Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, was contacted over whether the temporary NDIS measures for access to RATs could be extended but did not respond before publication.