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Welcome funding boost no long-term solution, say industry bodies

A half-a-billion dollar boost to the aged care sector that will support thousands of senior Australians to live at home for longer is only a short-term solution that won’t relieve existing or future pressures on the home care system, industry peak bodies say.

An extra 10,000 older Australians will be able to access high-level care at home thanks to a $552.9 million boost to the sector. (Source: Shutterstock)
An extra 10,000 older Australians will be able to access high-level care at home thanks to a $552.9 million boost to the sector. (Source: Shutterstock)

An extra 10,000 older Australians will be able to access high-level care at home thanks to a $552.9 million boost to the sector announced today as part of the Government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).

More than $287 million over three years has been dedicated to rolling out the extra packages, available in early 2019, which will be split across 5,000 level three and 5,000 level four packages, providing up to $50,000 per person in services each year.

The funding also includes:

  • $56.4 over four years to cut the maximum daily fees for some home care packages

  • $111.2 million over four years for a 30 percent increase in the viability and homelessness supplements for residential aged care providers

  • $98 million to support GPs visiting regional aged care facilities.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt say the Government understands older Australians prefer to stay at home as long as possible.

“We will also ease the cost of living for 70,000 older Australians by reducing the daily maximum fees payable by up to $400 per year for level one packages, $200 a year for level two packages and $100 a year for a level three packages,” the statement says.

“Older Australians who are not currently charged this maximum fee will still benefit because we will increase the value of packages by providing a top-up payment for additional services by providers that is the same amount as the fee reduction.”

Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sean Rooney says despite the funding boost, too many older Australians will still be waiting to receive the care they need.

“The funding to bring forward the release of extra home care places is welcome, but much more will be needed to assist the 126,732 older Australians currently on the home care waiting list,” Mr Rooney says.

“Providing levels of funding that reflect the increasing costs and growing demand for age services is the only way we can guarantee a sustainable age services industry that meets the growing and changing needs of older Australians in all types of care settings.

“There is much more work to do if we are to realise this objective.”

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia Chief Executive Ian Yates says the funding package is a step in the right direction.

“This a good step, a welcome step, but one that will still leave too many older Australians, that the government has itself assessed as in need of high level care at home, without that care,” Mr Yates says.

“We really need to reduce the waiting list so that no one waits more than three months for care. The reality is that when someone needs high-level support at home they can’t afford to wait. The risk to them and the burden on family is unacceptable, as is forcing people into residential care prematurely.”

“Overall this package of measures is very welcome, but still falls short of a comprehensive response to fixing the aged care challenges of today, while the Royal Commission deals with the longer term.”

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) CEO Pat Sparrow agrees, saying the extra packages will help to alleviate pressure on the system, but only in the short-term.

“There continues to be unacceptably long wait times for people to access the home care they require,” Ms Sparrow says.

“Having over 120,000 people waiting to be approved for home care at their level is unacceptable when individuals and their families need timely help.

“Sustainability of aged care services is important for older Australians and their families who rely on the care provided, but also for the economy and the communities that are supported by those services.

“Today’s announcement won’t address all of the issues but it is a much needed start.”

The $287 million home care expansion is on top of the extra 20,000 packages funded by the Government in the past year.

“We have invested an extra $1 billion a year in aged care services since 2013 and have continued our record investment through the 2018/19 Budget’s $5 billion boost over the next four years,” the joint Government statement says.

“These initiatives reflect the rollout of our Government’s unprecedented aged care improvements to help ensure older Australians receive the care they want and deserve, where and when they need it.”

However, National Seniors CEO Professor John McCallum says the shortage of appropriate home care is “not a new problem” and the Government is “always playing catch-up”.

“The [waitlist] figure keeps growing, despite the government’s increased funding,” Professor McCallum says.

“It costs tens of thousands of dollars less every year to keep people at home than in residential aged care, and people want to stay at home. This will also require more respite places for those carrying the burden of care at home.

“We’ve known we have an ageing population for decades and while the government has pumped a lot of additional funding into home and residential care, it’s always playing catch-up.

“The expertise exists to put together a sustainable and appropriate plan to ensure our older Australians are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We just need the leadership and will to do it.”

Executive Director of Baptist Care Australia Marcia Balzer is calling on the Government to prioritise a long-term, sustainable strategy.

“We know that demand will continue to increase in the next decade. We need serious and well-considered reforms to the system as well as sustainable funding to deliver aged care that’s fit for the future,” Ms Blazer says.

“Whichever party wins the next Federal Election, this will be a key responsibility for the new government – we can’t afford to keep delaying the inevitable.”

The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) is available here

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