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Aged care peak bodies respond to ‘stop gap’ Federal Budget

Despite some welcomed aged care funding allocations industry and consumer peak bodies have labelled the Federal Budget a missed opportunity to meet the needs of Australia’s ageing population.

Among some welcome funding priorities lie gaps for the future of Australia’s aged care sector [Source: Shutterstock]

“We need a more integrated, robust and better resourced strategy to ensure government remains focused on the opportunities of Australia’s ageing population,” consumer peak body Council on the Ageing (COTA) Chief Executive Ian Yates says.

“Yesterday’s report from the Parliamentary Budget Office’s signals greater action is needed today on policy initiatives for older Australians to mitigate the $36 billion cost to the Budget balance as a result of an ageing population and create positive opportunities.

He highlights the gaps in the Budget for the future of Australia’s aged care sector.

“There are some good measures in this Budget but there are gaping holes – major initiatives missing in action – including no extra Home Care Packages to reduce the nearly two year waiting list;no increase in Newstart;no oral and dental health program for older people; and no proactive Retirement Incomes Review to future-proof our retirement income system.”

Chief Advocate for National Seniors Australia Ian Henschke says the Government’s tax cuts would provide some relief to older Australians trying to build their superannuation to ensure an adequate income in retirement.

The consumer peak has expressed concerns for age pensioner living below the poverty line, having sought the establishment of an independent tribunal to set the pension rate based on need, rather than politics; increased assistance for renters; supported access to online services; expanded dental care; and unlocking wealth tied up in the family home.

The Federal Government had provided a one-off payment of $75 for single pensioners and $125 for couples towards their power bills, and previously announced commitments to aged care, and health initiatives such as indexation of Medicare rebates for scans and x-rays.

“While the one-off payment will help pensioners with cost of living pressures, National Seniors proposed the government reinstate the indexation of the Energy Supplement,” Mr Henschke says.

“This would have cost about $30 million a year – compared to the $280 million in this year’s budget - but would have made a real, ongoing difference to all pensioners who have been hardest hit by escalating energy prices.”

Industry peak body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sean Rooney says while the announcements of new regulatory measures, along with an extension of the Commonwealth Home Support Programme and implementation of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy are welcome, many Australians will be disappointed.

“We acknowledge the investment in aged care announced tonight but with a $7.1 billion surplus, many aged care providers and the older Australians they serve will be rightly disappointed.

“We support measures to improve compliance and increase quality in the sector but the Government needs to work collaboratively with industry and focus on improving practices and providing adequate resources.”

Mr Rooney says although the Government has extended Commonwealth Home Support Programme contracts by another two years, it is disappointing that they did not outline a plan to significantly reduce waiting lists for home care packages.

“LASA has called for legislated maximum wait times for home care of no more than three months and it is disappointing that this Budget seems unlikely to change the more than 12 months that older Australians are currently waiting for home care.”

Mr Yates agrees.

“The government’s own department has told the Royal Commission it will only cost $2.0 billion to $2.5 billion a year to ensure older Australians wait no more than 3 months for the assessed level of care they need,” he adds.

“The lack of investment in this Budget sends a troubling signal to the 125,000 older Australians still waiting for home care across the country.”

National Seniors also welcomes the Government’s recognition that home care packages are a priority for older Australians, but was deeply disappointed with the addition of only 20,000 packages this financial year, which will do little to address the current waiting lists of 128,000 people.

“One-third of all Australian voters are aged 60 and over and this budget was a missed opportunity to address the key issues confronting them,” Mr Henschke says.

“Our budget priorities stem directly from what older Australians tell us matters to them.”

Mr Rooney says a rapid and fundamental funding reform is required to meet the changing needs and expectations of the growing numbers of older Australians.

“While the initiatives announced tonight and in recent months will go some way to meeting the needs of older Australians and alleviating some issues facing the sector, more still needs to be done to appropriately resource affordable, sustainable, quality aged care and services.

“We have detailed what we think the funding priorities should be, along with a range of measures to free up funding for age services without any cost to the Budget, alongside vital research required to drive future reform in the sector.”

Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) says the aged care priorities outlined in the Federal Budget are important but require immediate, whole-of-Government action.

“The government has responded to increased scrutiny of aged care with a number of compliance and regulatory initiatives, but the hard reality is that so far we’ve really only seen stop gaps,” ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow says.

She says big reforms are required to address the challenges and opportunities faced by ageing Australians within the next decade.

“The industry has welcomed the scrutiny of the Royal Commission partly because it has helped bring the debate forward 10 years to where it needs to be. We need the entire community engaged in a discussion about what kind of care we want to provide and how to fund it sustainably.

“There is currently a mismatch between the needs and expectations of Australians and what aged care providers are funded to deliver.

Ms Sparrow says the longer-term issues and challenges are the responsibly of providers, families and Government.

“There is an urgent need to respond to the growing waiting list for home care packages that is leaving thousands of older Australians without the care they need and address the sustainability of residential care services, – we are disappointed that more was not done in these areas beyond the recent welcome announcements,” she says.


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