The government has known for two years that it needs to invest significantly in additional level four packages but has instead sat on its hands, writes Julie Collins.
The 2017 Budget was an opportunity for the Turnbull Government to fix the growing home care package problem threatening to remove the choice of many Australians to grow old at home.
Unfortunately what we got was a guarantee that vulnerable people will have all the choice, but no options when they grow old.
The care of older Australians is being jeopardised by the government’s failure to meet growing demand for home care services.
While an increasing number of older Australians are being assessed as eligible to receive the highest level of home care, a level four package, many have to wait years to receive that care, due to a lack of government-supported packages.
Labor offices are now receiving daily calls from vulnerable older Australians who are becoming distressed and afraid they will never get access to the care they need.
This is not a new problem.
A report from the Aged Care Financing Authority in 2015 showed level four package occupancy rates were at above 90 per cent. In the 2016 report that rate increased again to above 92 per cent.
The government has known for more than two years that it needs to invest significantly in additional level four packages, but has instead sat on its hands and let this access issue worsen.
Without a significant investment, the government will also fail to meet its commitment of 45 home care places for every 1,000 people aged 70 and over by 2021-22.
As a result of the recent changes the Government states that 18,000 packages have become available during March and April.
What it doesn’t say is that a vast majority of these are existing lower level packages, previously allocated directly to providers, which have been moved into the new national pool.
This has resulted in consumers approved for level four packages, accepting lower level packages that don’t meet their needs, just to get any level of support.
The flow on of this situation now means that all four levels of home care packages have a minimum of six months wait.
Confusion and a lack of support from My Aged Care has also rubbed salt into the wounds. The uncertainty of whether a consumer might receive care or when they might receive it is adding to the already unbearable stress and concern for many older Australians.
A failure in the approval paperwork has further caused many consumers to receive a unique referral code, allocated only when a consumer is assigned a packaged, despite still being on the wait list.
Some consumers have got as far as negotiating the details of their package with a chosen provider, only to find out their referral code is not yet valid.
The 2017 Budget should have put this issue front and centre and delivered a solution.
What we should have seen was a clear commitment to convert the misallocated low level packages to higher levels packages and an investment in additional packages to meet the needs of consumers and the provision ratio target.
Instead we saw an ageing policy free Budget that ignored the issue completely.
Seniors are being forced into comparatively more expensive residential care and acute hospitals because they are without the care they are entitled to receive at home.
The current situation is also placing greater pressure on future Budgets and making this regrettable situation, even worse.
Julie Collins is Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health.
AAA’s coverage on Budget 2017: