Nearly a million Australians missing out on $225m in unclaimed Medicare rebates

The Coalition have accused Labor of sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid Medicare benefits owed to almost one million Australians.

Opposition government services spokesman Paul Fletcher has accused Labor of keeping the money from people who need it most, while the relevant government agency, Services Australia, says the pool of money is growing only because people aren’t updating their details.

Taking aim at Government Services Minister Bill Shorten, Mr Fletcher said Labor needs to “come clean” and explain to the public why it is “sitting on so much money rather than it being directed to the relevant customers”.

Mr Fletcher cited figures given to senate estimates in June, which showed 900,000 Australians were owed $200m in unclaimed benefits.

However, figures obtained from Services Australia at the end of August show more than 954,000 Australians are eligible to receive more than $225m in unclaimed benefits.

Mr Fletcher said with so many people struggling with the surging cost-of-living, that money should be put back into the pockets of people who need it the most.

“Millions of families are struggling, and we have a government that focuses more on spin than substance when it comes to supporting households,” he said.

Services Australia general manager, Hank Jongen, said the unclaimed money belonged to Australians who had not gone through the “simple process” of updating their details.

“The agency can’t make payments to Medicare claimants if there isn’t a valid bank account registered to their Medicare account, or if the details are incorrect,” he said.

“Once bank details are updated, unclaimed Medicare benefits are usually made within three days.”

On the Services Australia website, the agency says they will hold on to the Medicare benefit if they don’t have the claimant’s bank details.

“We’ll write to you within two days of assessing your claim. We’ll tell you how to give us your bank details so we can pay you,” they said.

“Keep in mind we only send one letter. We won’t write to you each time we hold your Medicare benefit.”

As it stands, more than 278,000 NSW residents have $69.7m in unclaimed Medicare benefits.

There is about $57.4m unclaimed from about 237,000 Victorians.

About 198,000 Queenslanders have $44.1m in unclaimed rebates.

If people don’t have an online Medicare account, Services Australia suggest setting one up and linking it to MyGov.

Australians can also visit their nearest service centre to get their details updated.

But Mr Fletcher said Labor’s “shocking” reputation with service delivery has risked exacerbating the problem.

“Labor has axed jobs at Services Australia which is clearly impacting service delivery,” he said.

“Mr Shorten needs to get his act together and have his agency devise a plan to reach these affected customers. Putting it in the ‘too-hard’ basket is unacceptable, and Australians deserve better.”

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