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Budget brings “mixed emotions” for aged care

Expectations that last night’s 2018-19 Federal Budget announcement would see 2018 as the “year of action” for aged care have been shattered with many of the industry and consumer peak bodies instead left with mixed emotions about the priorities and funding allocation.

Aged care responds to 2018-2019 Budget (source Shuterstock)
Aged care responds to 2018-2019 Budget (source Shuterstock)

Many of the national aged care peak bodies welcomed the Budget announcements, which addressed a number of the issues presented in pre-Budget submissions, but they have also shared their feelings of disappointment in the small dent the Budget allocations will make on the challenges facing the nation’s growing aged care sector.

Some of the most welcomed Budget announcements include:

  • an additional 14,000 high-level home care packages over the next four years
  • the release of 13,500 residential aged care places and 775 short term restorative care places in the 2018-19 Aged Care Approvals Round with $60 million in capital investment to support new places
  • $82.5 million over four years for mental health services for people in residential aged care, and
  • $32.8 million over four years to deliver palliative care in residential aged care

A joint media statement by Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Minister for Sport and Rural Health Bridget McKenzie and Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt says the 2018-19 Budget is “guaranteeing the essential health services that Australians rely on”, with a $414.5 billion investment in health, aged care and sport.

With the Ministers saying “the 2018-19 Budget will deliver the More Choices For a Longer Life package which will support older Australians to live longer and be better prepared, healthier, more independent and connected to their communities.”

Despite the Government stance, Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA) is one of the nation’s leading aged care peak bodies who has openly admitted that while the 2018-19 Federal Budget is a “step in the right direction” for older Australians and the age services industry, there is still “much more work to do”.

LASA Chief Executive Officer Sean Rooney says Australia is facing a “new normal” as the Baby Boomers generation ages and says this Budget does not provide the system settings and the funding levels to meet the growing demand and provide the ‘fit for purpose’ aged care system Australia needs.

“The Budget provides some good news for older Australians seeking care in their own home with more than 14,000 new high-level home care packages funded over four years, following on from the extra 6,000 high-level packages delivered in the second half of 2017,” Mr Rooney says.

“Safety and quality in aged care is not negotiable and we also welcome the Government’s Budget announcement of $50 million for residential aged care funding to transition to a new quality regime.

“Measures to support ageing-well, including mental health, active ageing and a pensions loan scheme, are particularly welcome, along with specific measures to support the provision of aged care services in rural communities, such as $40 million for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.”

Mr Rooney says individually and collectively, these Budget initiatives, though welcomed by the industry, respond only in part to the growing demands for age services in Australia.

“We had hoped that this Budget would map out a plan to meet the longer-term needs of Australia’s rapidly ageing population,” he says.

“This Budget does not adequately address the growing complexity of residents’ needs, changing consumer and community expectations, and rising operational costs, which are all placing increasing financial pressure on residential aged care providers recording financial losses last financial year.

“The situation is even more serious in rural and regional settings where access to staff and higher costs further compound the situation.

“Ultimately, what Australia requires is the development of a long term, sustainable funding strategy to ensure that the needs of older Australians can be met.

“We need a strategy that will resolve aged care funding for the next two decades as our country transitions to supporting the Baby Boomer generation to age well.”

LASA’s sentiments have also been reflected by fellow peak body National Seniors Australia who have labelled the Budget as a “mix of pluses and minuses” for older Australians with “key initiatives foreshadowed by the government falling short on expectations and needs”.

National Seniors Chief Advocate Ian Henschke says they welcome the Budget’s aged and home care initiatives, along with others which allow seniors opportunities to boost their standard of living, but says that what was described as a Budget for Baby Boomers and a “big winner” for seniors was much less than promised.

“We are pleased the Government has committed to fund 14,000 high-level [home care] packages over the next four years, in addition to the 6,000 places announced last December,” Mr Henschke says.

“But, sadly, there are still tens of thousands of people waiting for the level of home care they need and it seems that will remain the situation for some years to come unless more money is put into this vital area.

“We know that if people can remain in their own homes, they have better health outcomes and it is more cost efficient, so it’s hard to understand why more resources haven’t been allocated to home care.”

The advocacy group for older Australians also welcomes an increase in the Work Bonus from $6,500 to $7,800 per annum, which Mr Henschke says will allow pensioners to earn more before their pension is reduced.

“We’ve been arguing pensioners should not be penalised for working but encouraged to do so,” he explains.

“They should be allowed to earn more so they can improve their standard of living, rather than being penalised with pension cuts.

“While we sought a lift in the Work Bonus to $10,000, this is at least an increase, and we’re also pleased that for the first time, this initiative has been extended to self-employed pensioners.”

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) appear less critical of the Budget announcements, with CEO Pat Sparrow saying it “demonstrates a Government commitment to the future of aged care services”.

While welcoming “useful” Budget measures, Ms Sparrow does highlight that more needs to be done.

“The Government’s measures for aged care in the Budget are practical but our view is they should form part of a longer-term commitment to the sustainable provisioning of aged care services into the future,” she says.

“We want to further this discussion with Government and the community on how best to plan and provide for the future care services needed for our rapidly ageing population.”

Many of the aged care peak and advocacy bodies, including ACSA and LASA, have come forward to say they will continue to work with Government to improve aged care services in Australia as the demand for services grows and in light of the Budget announcements.

LASA’s Mr Rooney says 2018-19 is a “critical year” in aged care and says it’s urgent that more work is done to ensure we have a high performing, respected and sustainable aged care system that delivers accessible, affordable quality care and services for older Australians.

“Expectations are set that 2018 must be the year of action,” he says.

“The issues of ageing and aged care in Australia are too important not to get right.”

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