Second Reading – Aged Care Legislation (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill 2016

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Mr PITT (HinklerAssistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) (10:51): I rise to speak today on the Aged Care Legislation (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill 2016, which will bring flexibility and a more consumer-driven aged-care system for older Australians. With the number of people aged 65 and over projected to more than double, from 3.6 million in 2014-15 to 8.9 million by 2055, the need for a robust aged-care system is evident.

My electorate of Hinkler has an older than average population. There are 32,953, or 32.97 per cent, of my constituents who are over the age of 65. Older Australians want to stay in their homes as long as possible before going into care. Sixty-eight per cent of Australians aged 65 years and over currently live at home without accessing government subsidised aged-care services. Twenty-five per cent of elderly people living at home receive some government subsidised aged-care services. By 2050, over 3½ million Australians are expected to use aged-care services.

The 2011 Productivity Commission inquiry found that older Australians do not want to be passive recipients of services dependent on providers. They want to be independent, able to choose where they live, which provider they would use and the way in which services are delivered.

The inquiry also found that consumer choice improves wellbeing, including higher life satisfaction, greater life expectancy, independence and better continuity of care. Moving to a market based system, which gives consumers real choice, is central to the coalition government’s plan.

This legislation will amend the Aged Care Act 1997 and the Aged Care (Transitional Provisions) Act 1997 in three main areas. Firstly, funding for a home care package will follow the consumer, replacing the current system where home care places are allocated to individual approved providers in a particular location or region. This will provide more choice for the consumer in selecting their provider as well as more flexibility to change their provider if they want to do so. Providers will no longer have to apply for new home care places, through the aged care approvals round, significantly reducing red tape for businesses.

Secondly, there will be a consistent national approach to prioritising access to home care packages through My Aged Care—the government entry point or gateway to the aged care system. The prioritisation process will take into account the needs and circumstances of consumers determined through the comprehensive assessment undertaken by the aged care assessment team and the time that a person has been waiting for care.

Thirdly, there will be reduced red tape associated with providers who become approved under the Aged Care Act 1997. This will encourage new providers to enter the home care market, supporting greater choice for consumers. All providers will still need to demonstrate their suitability to become an approved provider and meet quality standards.

There is no doubt that reforms in the aged care system are needed. People want more choice and they want more flexibility. I have heard firsthand accounts from constituents about their frustrations in trying to navigate the aged care system. A gentleman contacted my office to raise his concerns about the current funding arrangements and he posed this question: ‘Why can’t a carer who has extensive experience in handling people’s finances or business affairs be given direct access to the funds when there is no need for a care provider to be involved?’

Kevin Woods’ life was changed in a matter of seconds when his wife, Wendy, suffered a severe stroke in February 2010. He went from working full-time to becoming a full-time carer looking after his wife and helping with her recovery. It is a 24-hour seven-days-a-week job. I take my hat off to Mr Woods and others in his situation who take on the sometimes difficult task of caring for a loved one with limited resources.

Mr Woods’ wife is eligible for 12 hours support per week in their home. Over the past six years Mr Woods has had to jump through hoops and fight tooth and nail to get additional support and care items for his wife. Mrs Woods needed a replacement second skin sleeve for her arm so Mr Woods approached their service provider and was told there were not any funds available. Mrs Woods needed a brace for her leg to help her walk. They, again, approached their provider and, again, were told there were not any funds available. In March 2014, Mr Woods was told by an occupational therapist that his wife should be showered in a wheelchair for her safety. Again, he went to their service provider and was told that there were no funds available.

After three weeks of phone calls and negotiations the service provider finally agreed to pay for their chair. To use Mr Woods’ own words, there were ‘nearly three weeks to get it organised, a lot of stress and three days delivery’. Why should it be this hard for someone to get equipment or aids that are clearly needed and, in this instance, deemed necessary by the consumer?

Once again, to quote Mr Woods, ‘This is a woman who has lost the use of her right arm, can only walk under supervision with the assistance of a walking stick and a brace on her right leg and foot. She can understand what you are saying but cannot communicate her thoughts. She needs assistance from her supposed carers but is being blocked at every turn at the local level of an organisation supposed to be dedicated to supporting their clients.’

Mr Woods believes that capable carers could put the allowances to much better use by employing people to do many more hours per week in regular organised support and carrying out other work around the home. He believes that if he were managing the funds, directly, from the government he could access twice the number of hours per month at half the cost to the government.

I am pleased to see that under the proposed legislation the individual will get to decide which provider they want to deliver the services and then the government pays the provider on their behalf. The funding will follow the consumer, giving them greater choice to choose a provider that is suited to them and to direct the funding to that provider. A home care package will be portable for the consumer if they wish to move location or change to another provider. The package, including any unspent funds, will move with the consumer to their new provider. Currently, any unspent funds remain with the provider, which can be a significant financial disincentive for the consumer to change providers.

Consumers will be able to access information about their home care service providers, through the My Aged Care website, by contacting the My Aged Care contact centre and from the My Aged Care Regional Assessment Services and ACATs. Providers will be able to display relevant information on the My Aged Care service finder to enable consumers to choose their preferred provider. This will help ensure that special needs groups, including people with dementia, will have access to providers who cater to their specific needs. My Aged Care will be able to support consumers to choose a provider through a match-and-refer service—although it is important to note that the consumer will make the final decision about their preferred provider. Some consumers may require additional assistance to make an informed decision about their choice. A range of supports will be available to consumers depending on their circumstances, including the Translating and Interpreting Service and advocacy services through the National Aged Care Advocacy Program.

With this legislation—for the first time—there will be a consistent national system for prioritising access to subsidised home care. This will allow a more equitable and flexible distribution of packages to consumers, based on individual needs and circumstances, regardless of where they live. The Aged Care Legislation (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill is an important step in reforming aged care in Australia to give older Australians more choice and flexibility. I commend the bill to the House.

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