The federal government is seeking to go forward with a new reform initiative for the national home aged care programme. Under the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the goal is to complete the reforms and launch the programme by 1 July 2024. The main objective of the new programme is to improve the quality of aged care services while providing Australians educated choices for their elderly loved ones’ welfare.
A discussion paper on the reforms is already active with public submissions invited until 25 November 2022 and a webinar will be held on 7 December to analyse the feedback. Targeted group discussions are scheduled in January and February of 2023.
The government has tabled the 2022-2023 October Budget to act on the Royal Commission’s recommendations for reforming the in-home aged care sector, with $3.9 billion programmed to finance the effort. The above deadline was a move up from the original target date of July 2023.
Under the current framework, Australia’s in-home aged care service can be found through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP), the Home Care Packages, the Short-Term Restorative Care, and residential respite. However, the Royal Commission’s findings identified issues affecting all four options. The most common of these were high admin fees, confusion in programme arrangements, very sporadic service administration, and long wait times for admission, with the unfortunate effect of an elderly person possibly passing away by the time an application for home care comes through.
The government also set 1 December 2022 as the formal activation of the Code of Conduct for Aged Care and for the Serious Incident Response Scheme to be expanded to home care and flexible care programmes.
Breakdown of the National Home Care Reform Project
The aged-care reform package of the 2022-2023 October Budget has a wide raft of line items touted to bring the sector to a highly-positive direction. Here are a number of key elements:
- A $2.5-billion tranche will be programmed towards improving the number of care minutes per resident at aged-care homes. It is projected that starting 1 October 2023, there will be a minimum of 200 care minutes including 40 nursing minutes; that time allotment would increase to 215 care minutes/44 nursing minutes on 1 October 2024. Each aged-care home will be required to assign a registered nurse for 24/7 on-site duty.
- $312.6 million will be allotted for modernisation of Australia’s aged-care ICT infrastructure over the next four years. The objective is to streamline service processing of over 2,000 accredited care providers linked to the government’s healthcare agencies, plus maintain support of My Aged Care operations. The line item addresses some of the 30 ICT-related recommendations laid down in the Royal Commission report.
- $3.6 million is earmarked for establishing a new national personal carer registration scheme, which includes the development of a code of conduct, and continuing training and English-proficiency classes. Care providers will be mandated to run direct employment. The English-proficiency classes are aimed at resolving long-standing problems of care providers accepting licenced care workers who may not have adequate English communication skills, resulting in lack of connection with their wards. The Australian College of Care Workers, for one, is already addressing such issues on its end through a three-year overhaul of its English-skills policy for accredited members.
- Improved efforts to hire more aged-care workers and to raise the salaries of 300,000 current staff, pursuant to a federal government request to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) filed in August 2022. Proponents of this line item claim that the pay hike was needed after nearly a decade of inaction under the previous administration, which last stated before the recent general election that they will follow FWC rulings for the pay hike – but stopped short of committing actual funds. Although the federal submission sought a 25 per cent raise, the FWC agreed on a 15 per cent lift to wages under the Aged Care Award, the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award, and the Nurses Award. However, this will apply only to frontline nursing home carers, not administrative or lifestyle support staff.
- $38.7 million will be programmed over the next four years to establish a new office for an independent Inspector-General of Aged Care; this role will focus on oversight of the aged-care system, including correction of chronic issues and devising new solutions to look after elderly Australians In line with this, $9.9m will be outlayed over two years to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to form a new office of the Aged-Care Complaints Commissioner. This new official will be the Commission’s lead authority in investigating complaints on aged-care providers, staff, assessors, and business practices.
- $23.1 million is pencilled in for bolstering in-home aged-care services through measures such as the establishment of a new Service List Advisory Body, continued consultations, and building a new quality indicator and star-rating system. In a related tangent, the government will continue CHSP funding up to 30 June 2024, to make way for the new aged-care programme – but this will only be available to current CHSP providers.
- The Maggie Beer Foundation will be furnished $5m to run a new three-year training initiative to upgrade nutritional standards for the aged-care sector, with the prime objective being to train aged-care staff and providers with preparing higher-quality food for seniors.
- The reform will also scrap exit fees while home care providers will have a cap on administration and management fees. The move is meant to further optimise the usage of direct-care funds while protecting older Australians from neglect or scams.
The ASAG Reverse Mortgage
ASAG is poised to take advantage of the reforms under the programme. The ASAG Reverse Mortgage for Home Care (In-Home Support) can help finance plans for seniors to age in place instead of resettling into a retirement village. Up to half of the property’s current equity can be used to fund the effort and be paid off over time or when the property is put up for sale.
The Royal Commission report and the reforms listed therein provide much potential and promise to help Australians in their later years. Minister for Health and Aged Care the Hon Mark Wells himself is just as optimistic. “Older Australians deserve respect and dignity in aged care and this Budget takes the first steps to deliver the reforms that they so badly need,” he said.
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