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Concerns raised over home care package choice

Results from a recent survey of National Seniors members has raised concerns from the consumer lobby group that the Federal Government’s new consumer directed home care program could be at risk of failing.

Possible issues with the new Home Care system revealed in National Senior's survey (Source: Shutterstock)
Possible issues with the new Home Care system revealed in National Senior's survey (Source: Shutterstock)

The recent survey included 4,267 National Seniors members and while it showed that 98 percent of members believed choice of home care services was important, it also revealed some problems with the new system, including lack of choice, high administration fees and insufficient care packages.

National Seniors Research Director Professor John McCallum says the research shows that 20 percent of respondents had no confidence of being able to choose a provider to suit their needs and another 35 percent were unsure.

He also says the results show that confidence is ‘particularly low’ among residents of regional communities, where the number of providers was low or non-existent.

“...What we found was that people don’t know what to buy or how to buy it, and the system can’t respond without change and further development,” Professor McCallum says.

“People, particularly those who are most vulnerable, just aren’t used to having choice, and we must ensure that we don’t allow the system to fail at the starting gate.”

The changes to the Australian home care packages mean that instead of packages being awarded to service providers, older consumers are assessed for funding, which they can then use to purchase services from providers of their choice. It is a system designed to allow older people to age in their own homes and communities, rather than moving to nursing homes.

The report states that while Australians want choice and flexibility in aged care, and both consumers and providers are supportive of Consumer Directed Care; digital literacy can impact access to aged care.

According to a regional aged care manager quoted in the report, the market mechanism “implies an informed and empowered consumer” and says that the biggest failure of the system is not addressing the issue of vulnerability of people accessing aged care. She adds “decisions are made in a time of crisis by a person who may be cognitively impaired, with the support of family members who may not live close by”.

Given the positivity around consumers having choice of care, Professor McCallum says National Seniors is eager to work with the Federal Government to ensure the success of consumer directed home care.

“Consumer directed care is something our members want,” Professor McCallum says. “But consumers need help in making the right choices, more advocates to work with them if they are unsure what to do, and improved digital literacy skills to make the My Aged Care website more accessible.

“With such overwhelming support for choice, we need to reform consumer directed care to make it work and ensure we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt has responded to concerns and says that the reforms aim to empower older Australians and put them in control of their care.

“Since the introduction of the new system, around 60,000 home care packages have been allocated, with well over half of these going to people accessing care for the first time,” he says.

“Like any new system, it has taken time to bed down but priority for those who need care most is paramount.”

With the old system of home care having no clear accountability, waitlists held by providers, an inability to measure demand and adjust supply, and proving not always fair to all consumers, Minister Wyatt is positive about the new system.

“As the reforms have kicked in, the Department of Health has been compiling the new national home care queue, allowing us to identify people who have been waiting a long time for care, and where there are particular areas of need,” he says.

“Now that we are compiling accurate information on the location of demand, I am looking to make adjustments in supply to provide appropriate care packages where they are required.

“I’m aiming to provide more certainty and reduce waiting times, especially for those who need higher levels of care.

“I am committed to working with care providers and aged care organisations to help fine-tune the system...I am committed to ensuring people receive the care they need and have as much choice and control over their care as possible, wherever they live.”

Minister Wyatt adds that if anyone is concerned about their assessment level of need that they ask for re-assessment.

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