Aged care consumers are being advised to look for hidden costs behind “free” support as two new national comparison websites come online in time for the February aged care reforms.
Two websites launching next week say they will support older people to choose the best aged care service for their needs while offering providers an additional marketing platform.
The sites – InfoCare and iCompare Aged Care – both offer the service to consumers for free, instead making their money through membership or commission fees and advertising.
They come after the recent launch of industry-backed service directory and guide agedcare101.
These latest sites follow the launch of several other aged care review sites in recent years as the sector moves toward a more competitive marketplace (read AAA’s story on that here).
Aged Care Gurus principal Rachel Lane said comparison websites were a good place for consumers to start because they consolidated information and gave a reference point – but it was important to understand how they worked.
“They don’t compare every service. It’s about understanding the limitations of the comparisons,” Ms Lane told Australian Ageing Agenda.
While websites may be “free” to consumers, Ms Lane said it was important to understand how costs were passed on.
“An essential question would be whether it’s being paid for from the aged care provider’s marketing budget or from the package funds, perhaps through administration fees,” Ms Lane said.
Similarly, Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates told AAA that if the sites were not charging consumers they were likely passing the cost to aged care providers, which raised questions about whether those organisations got preferential exposure.
“They might be the right provider for you but how do you know that? What is the criteria by which they are selected,” he asked.
Mr Yates said the most comprehensive database was the government’s My Aged Care and consumers should always look there in addition to other tools used to narrow a search.
If My Aged Care information is accurate and up to date, consumers should understand whether sites offer additional value or led them to a provider that paid to be on that site, he said.
Mr Yates said consumers should look for reassurance through the sites’ degree of transparency about their objectivity and costs.
How the new sites compare
InfoCare, which is live but still undergoing data updates ahead of formerly launching in the first week of March, draws its data on approved aged care and disability providers from the Department of Health.
It provides users with a list of approved providers based on the location and package type entered to compare areas including availability, service costs, target group and language or cultural specialities.
InfoCare director Ana Lovric said the site was based on the popular comparison website model, such as that used by Webjet or iSelect, and aims to inform and empower consumers now given individualised budgets.
InfoCare operates a freemium model where all government-approved service providers are given a free basic listing that includes contact and service type information and the option to pay for additional features.
“If providers wish to add more information to their listing, such as information about who they are, the hourly costs, availability or add additional private services, they will need to upgrade their membership,” Ms Lovric told AAA.
“The fee structure was designed with affordability in mind, enabling small community-based providers with limited marketing resources to have an effective online exposure, and to give public access to information on all approved providers so they can make an informed decision about their care choices,” she said.
Pitching itself as a comparison and personal advisory website, iCompare Aged Care will give consumers a list of up to 10 “handpicked” providers that best match their criteria when it launches on 27 February.
“Consumers will then have the ability to obtain information about each provider including the average funds available to purchase support services after deducting administration and case management fees,” said Jenny Ho, iCompare Aged Care director.
From this month, the government has confirmed this data will be captured on My Aged Care.
Users will get personal advice from care advisors through phone, live chat or email to assist them to identify the best suited provider from the list, Ms Ho told AAA.
“The consumer’s details are then forwarded to the provider identified as the best fit for them. The provider takes over at this stage to sign the customer up,” she said.
While listings are free for aged care providers they pay a commission if they subsequently sign a customer referred to them, she said.
Over time, the site will also include reviews and ratings that track consumer views on the provider from the initial contact, signing and ongoing service and support, Ms Ho said.
Want to have your say on this story? Comment below. Send us your news and tip-offs to firstname.lastname@example.org