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Aged care sector responds to missed opportunities in Federal Budget

The Federal Government released the Federal Budget on Tuesday night which offered investments into the aged care sector but has still been labelled by peak bodies and aged care providers as a missed opportunity to tackle financial problems in the industry.

The aged care industry wanted more from the Federal Government's 2020-21 budget than what was announced for the sector. [Source: iStock]
The aged care industry wanted more from the Federal Government's 2020-21 budget than what was announced for the sector. [Source: iStock]

Many aged care peak bodies and providers have voiced the appreciation for what has been made available in the budget for older people and the aged care sector, however, they believe that the budget is really lacking in financial substance and appropriate future reform.

Budget overview

As part of the Budget, the Government announced an additional 23,000 Home Care Packages (HCPs), costing $1.6 billion over four years from 2020-21, will be available across all HCP levels.

They will also be providing two once-off, tax-free, payments of $250 to older people on Government support. 

Those eligible for the Economic Support Payments include people currently receiving one of the following:

  • Age Pension

  • Carer Payment

  • Carer Allowance

  • Veteran's Affairs payment recipients

  • Veteran's Affairs Concession Cardholders

  • Pensioner Concession Cardholders

  • Disability Support Pension

The first payment is expected to be paid out in December and the second round of $250 payments will be disbursed in March next year.

The budget also shows:

  • $11.3 million spent on training and support for aged care providers and carers of people living with dementia who are experiencing behavioural and psychological symptoms

  • $26.9 million in 2020-21 to support the operation of the My Aged Care website

  • $29.8 million of additional funding over three years to improve the Serious Incident Response Scheme

  • $10.6 million over three years towards placing younger people living in residential aged care into more age appropriate accommodation

  • The Aged Care Workforce Industry Council will receive $10.3 million over three years to assist with the implementation of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy

  • $35.6 million over two years for the Business Improvement Fund which will assist eligible aged care providers with their financial operations

  • $26 million for 2020-21 will maintain the regulation and compliance abilities of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission

  • To defer the introduction of a cost recovery levy for unannounced site visits, $11.3 million for 2020-21 has been committed

  • $21 million over four years will be provided to assist in delaying the implementation of payment in arrears and on invoice for home care services, this will also provide transition support for providers to adjust to the new arrangements

  • $4.6 million over two years has been provided to manage the review of support care needs for older Australians living in their own home and to determine the best way to deliver care at home

  • The Department of Health and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will receive $4.1 million so they can respond to requests from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety

  • Federal Government is still developing an alternative aged care funding tool, the Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN-ACC). However, $91.6 million over two years is committed to a new independent AN-ACC assessment workforce

Granny flat arrangements will now receive an exemption from the Capital Gains tax, in what Government believes will assist with reducing the risk of older people experiencing financial abuse and exploitation through these agreements.

In regards to COVID-19 assistance in the aged care sector, the budget shows previously announced COVID-19 commitments to aged care.

What the sector says

Industry peak body, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), has described the Budget investments as a "down payment" for a better aged care system.

Sean Rooney, Chief Executive Officer of LASA, says, "We are committed to having the world’s best aged care system as we look towards the Aged Care Royal Commission’s final report in February next year.

"The Royal Commission has heard that the policy, regulation and resourcing that underpins Australia’s aged care system has not kept pace with the needs of older Australians or the expectations of the wider community.

"We need to transform the aged care system so older Australians get the care they need, and the workers and organisations that care for them are enabled to deliver the best quality care and services possible.

"While this Budget does not address all of these issues, it does lay a platform for the future."

Older Australians peak body, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia expressed their concern about no commitment and plan to reduce waiting times for HCPs to 30 days.

“The new Home Care Packages are a substantial step forward and to be applauded, as are the supporters of our ‘Safer at Home’ campaign who lobbied for this, but we still have a way to go and more will need to be done in the May 2021 Budget," says Ian Yates, Chief Executive at COTA.

"Pensioners will be very pleased about additional pension supplements of $250 in December and $250 in March, a positive response by Government to our strong lobbying for additional help to pensioners at a time that the indexation formula did not deliver an increase in the pension rate.

"However, we are disappointed that there is no increase in the inadequate Commonwealth Rent Assistance maximum rate, and that older unemployed people will still have their savings plundered by the Liquid Assets Test at the very time they should have retirement savings protected."

Dementia Australia is appreciative of the $11.3 million investment into psychosocial support for people taking care of people living with dementia, but they believe there has been a lacking focus on the issue in a $115.5 billion budget for 2020-21.

CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe, says it is a concerning failure on the part of the Government to not provide targeted supports, workforce training and system changes for people living with dementia.

“There is an assumption that more money for aged care means that quality dementia care will also be addressed," explains Ms McCabe.

"The stories highlighted to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety plus those shared by people living with dementia, families and carers during the COVID-19 pandemic starkly reveal that dementia is not core business for the sector.

"The additional $8 billion investment in aged care is welcomed. However, with more than two thirds of people in residential aged care living with dementia, unless we see dementia-specific targets in workforce training and education, regulation and quality, people with dementia, their families and carers will continue to fall through the gaps."

Peak body for Catholic health services, Catholic Health Australia (CHA), says they are disappointed by the allocations in the budget and believes the sector needs an "urgent injection of funding to tackle the triple whammy of declining revenue, rising costs and public expectations that standards need to rise".

Pat Garcia, CEO of CHA, says, "The aged care sector has been underfunded for years, staff are underpaid and many homes are operating at a loss.

"We shouldn’t be in this position and older Australians deserve far better from our political leaders.  It’s disappointing that once again the aged care sector has largely been forgotten in [this] budget."

The Government aims to release reform in May 2021 after the release of the Final Report from the Royal Commission, however, Aged Care Guild's Acting CEO, Nicholas Brown, says the budget could have been an important step for the sector and is a missed opportunity.

"This Budget is particularly important to senior Australians and the aged care industry in laying the foundations for the sector’s path to recovery, and the reform it desperately needs,” explains Mr Brown.

"First and foremost, aged care needs to be about supporting senior Australians. However, it can and should be an important part of rebuilding Australia’s economy, particularly when it comes to the workforce and employing and retaining much-needed staff.

"We greatly support and echo Minister Colbeck’s words of thanks to the frontline aged care workers. There is no question they are the greatest asset we have in protecting and caring for senior Australians in aged care homes. An investment in workers is an investment in care."

Mr Brown added that the COVID-19 supports will run out in early 2021, so the sector will need bridging support to provide relief until the proposed Government reform is announced in May 2021.

Aged care provider, Carinity, has said that while the new Home Care Packages are welcomed, there are still more additional supports needed for older Australians.

Home Care Manager at Carinity, Janelle Heyse, says, "Carinity welcomes the Government funding 23,000 additional Home Care Packages to support more seniors to remain living safely and independently in their home.

"However, we would welcome additional home care packages to ensure that more Australians can get the best quality care they require, while reducing waiting times for those seeking home care services."

To access the full budget, head the Federal Government Budget website.

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