Data released by the Department of Health recently shows the national queue of older Australians seeking home care packages has grown by over 30 per cent since the implementation of the Government’s Increasing Choice in Home Care (ICHC) reforms in February 2017.
As at 31 March 2018 there were over 108,000 older Australians in the national queue for home care packages. Around half of these people are accessing packages below their level of assessed need while they are waiting. To put this into context, there are currently just under 80,000 active home care packages in the system at any one time.
Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) CEO Sean Rooney said it is clear from the data that the home care package program is facing compounding challenges and that further financial and operational investment is needed to successfully implement the reforms.
Mr Rooney welcomed the transparency of information made available through the Department of Health’s quarterly release of the Home Care Packages Program Data Reports but said it is vital that the reports are published in a timely manner.
“This current data report was nearly 3 months overdue yet the information is critical to gain both an understanding of how the ICHC program is performing and to support providers to forward plan.
“The Government needs to mandate the release and communication of the Home Care Packages Program Data report at no more than 90-days post close of each data reporting period, moving forward.
“The obvious shortfall in home care packages that the data shows is not only impacting the care available to older Australians, but providers are also facing increased challenges to deliver appropriate services and manage risks associated with unmet care needs,” Mr Rooney said.
“The Data Report, showed that at 31 March over 80 per cent on the national prioritisation queue are awaiting a level 3 or 4 home care package (HCP). And maximum wait times for older Australians awaiting a high level HCP extended beyond 12 months while for lower level HCPs, they ranged between 3 to 9 months.”
“The Government needs to look closely at the needs of people on the national queue and at future demand to ascertain what level of additional packages will be required over the next 4 years to meet people’s needs and minimise waiting times,” Mr Rooney said.
Part of this work needs to include looking at why high levels of unspent funds are accruing for some people who have existing home care packages. LASA notes that the Aged Care Financing Authority (ACFA) has identified unspent HCP funds at 30 June 2017 totalling $329 million with a recommendation for the review of policies concerning unspent package funds. If some clients have packages that are in excess of their needs, these funds could be redirected to new packages.
The 2018-19 Budget included the expected number of home care packages to be available in each of the next 4 years, up from 87,590 in 2017-18:
- 111,500 in 2018-19
- 134,500 in 2019-20
- 144,500 in 2020-21
- 151,500 in 2021-22
The latest home care package data shows that almost 54,000 people in the national queue have no home care package support even at a level below what they need. Assuming the same split between package levels as for current clients, to fill this unmet demand would cost of the order of $685 million per annum, after the new packages in 2018-19 are taken into account. This does not include upgrading packages for people who have a package but one that is below the level they need.
LASA calls on the Government to develop a sustainable funding strategy for home care. This needs to look at all the available public and private funding levers.
Mr Rooney also noted that lengthy wait times for HCP assignments means some consumers on the national prioritisation queue will have to pay for interim care, while others will not be able to afford this.
“It is of concern that lengthy wait times to access a home care package will undoubtedly result in increased rates of hospital admissions and premature entries to residential care,” Mr Rooney said.
“Such impacts run counter to the intention of the Home Care Packages Program in facilitating ageing in place for older Australians.”
Mr Rooney said the home care reforms, in aiming to support consumer choice, are ‘absolutely right in principle’, but were being challenged by the implementation of significant system changes, whilst also straining to keep up with growing demand.
“The Morrison Government needs to review the policy and funding settings for the home care package program as one of its key priorities over its first 100 days in office”, Mr Rooney said.