The Department of Health has said 22,000 home care packages have been released under the new system and it will release detailed data in July on how it’s performing.
Bonnie Carter says her 84-year-old mother has been waiting for a high-level home care package for more than 70 days.
Ms Carter says that since an Aged Care Assessment Team assessed her mother as needing the package, “nothing has happened.”
“There’s been no contact other than me calling My Aged Care several times to see where she is in the queue and how long she might have to wait,” Ms Carter says.
“Apparently no one can tell anyone anything about this mythical queue until the end of this year,” she adds.
Under the latest aged care reforms that came into force on 27 February, the Department of Health has created a new centralised process for allocating home care packages directly to consumers.
As part of the new system a “national prioritisation process” has been created: after a senior is assessed as needing a home care package they join a new national queue where they wait to be allocated a package.
How long a senior waits on the queue is based on various factors – such as their level of need, how long they’ve been waiting and how quickly a package at their level of need becomes available (the number of packages is increasing but remains capped by government).
It’s a complex new system and, in the absence of transparency around how it is working, confusion is mounting among providers and consumers.
System is working, says department
This week the department said that 22,000 home care packages have been allocated across the country since the changes – evidence, it said, that the new system “is working”.
But many providers report a significant drop in the volume of clients coming through to them. Where are the 22,000 seniors who have these packages, they ask.
Many point to the likely implications of the 56-day rule.
Under the new system, once a senior receives a letter from the department to say they’ve been assigned a home care package, the older person has 56 days to find a provider and start receiving services.
Within that period they also receive a reminder letter (after 35 days) if the system identifies they haven’t yet taken up their package.
Sector stakeholders are privately wondering if 56 days is too long. Some say they initially suggested to the department that letters wouldn’t cut it – the My Aged Care contact centre should be following up with calls, for example, to more actively manage the process.
Others believe seniors may be confused by the different letters they receive (one to say they’ve been approved for a package, the next to say they’ve been assigned a package) and argue government needs to spend more on consumer support.
The department itself says a lack of seniors coming through the system is likely more to do with the lengthy time they have to avail of a package, rather than issues with the new process.
“The expectation is the flow of clients through to providers should start to ramp up as we come through the 56 day period,” bureaucrats said in a webinar for providers this week.
Lack of data on packages, wait times
At the heart of the mounting disquiet in the sector is the department’s reluctance to release data on how the new system is performing.
The department has repeatedly said it cannot provide detailed data until “the second half of the year.”
Last week Australian Ageing Agenda emailed detailed questions to the department seeking data on the allocation and uptake of packages and wait times on the national queue.
We also asked: “If the department maintains that it cannot provide this data until ‘the second half of the year’ then can it explain why it is taking six months to gather this data.”
The department’s media adviser responded: “Oh dear – sorry you are so aggro – I’ll see what we can do.”
No further response was provided.
By stark contrast, the officials who appeared in this week’s webinar said they acknowledged the sector’s need for data and said quarterly reports would be provided from July.
They said the quarterly reports will include:
- the number of approvals at each level
- how many seniors are on the queue
- how many are opting into services who had an older approval
- how many are being assigned packages and what is their take-up behaviour
- information on people leaving care
- information on new providers coming into home care
The first report to be released in July will cover the period between 27 February and the end of June, the officials said.
While much of the focus has been on the new system for approving and assigning packages, some provider sources say assessment delays in some areas could also be a factor.
As AAA reported in March, assessment teams in just two states are meeting their targets for “high priority” referrals (read that story here).
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