The Federal Budget contained several changes to aged care policies and programs, from the opening up of the accreditation process to private operators to changes to the healthy ageing grants.
Aged care providers will pay the full cost of their participation in the aged care accreditation process, as part of opening the system up to private accrediting organisations, the government announced in last night’s Federal Budget.
The Aged Care Quality Agency would no longer be the sole accrediting body in aged care, as the government said it would work with the sector to introduce private accrediting bodies as part of standardising the quality system across residential and community aged care.
“This would improve and simplify the accreditation process for providers,” the government said.
Opening up accreditation to private bodies will involve aged care providers paying the full cost of their involvement in the scheme, which the Budget estimated would cost providers $30.7 million over four years.
The government said that introducing competition in accreditation services will help reduce costs for providers.
A new fee schedule will be introduced from 1 July 2016 to cover the full costs of accreditation, education and training activities performed by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency.
Providers with less than 25 places or those that receive a viability supplement will be eligible for a partial or full exemption of their accreditation fees.
Leading Age Services Australia said it welcomed the move. CEO Patrick Reid said the industry needed innovation to drive competition and increase quality standards.
“We firmly believe the independent provision of accreditation services in aged care will lead to improved services,” he said.
Restorative care boost
Short-term restorative care places will be incorporated into the aged care planning ratio from 1 July next year, which will save the government $56.2 million over four years and result in 2,000 new places by 2021 as the places grow in line with the aged population.
Last night’s Budget announced the Transition Care Program will be expanded from its current 4,000 places and be renamed the Restorative Care Program.
Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said the new program would allow aged care providers to develop and offer restorative care, and would also incorporate the existing Transition Care Program that assists older people to return home after a hospital stay.
Notwithstanding the finer details, HammondCare CEO Dr Stephen Judd described the introduction of short-term restorative care places into the aged care planning ratios as a “transformational change”.
He said the ratio allowed for 125 aged care places per 1,000 people over 70 and that it was understood the new ratio would be two restorative care, 78 residential care and 45 home care.
“Permanent residential aged care placement is no longer inevitable as a result of gradual functional decline. Instead, these new places provide an opportunity for older Australians to get back to the home of their choice for longer,” Dr Judd said.
Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett said the increase in short-term restorative care places funded from the savings would enable more people to move between residential aged care and the community. “While we welcome support that enables people to live in the community with dementia, it is important that this does not come at the expense of other aged care places,” she said.
Catholic Health Australia noted the importance of including the places in the provision ratio so their number will expand as the number of older people increases to become a significant component of the aged care system.
It also welcomed other developments such as access not requiring prior hospitalisation and new places being allocated through a competitive tender process. “It will not only result in better outcomes for more people, but the expanded restorative approach should also play a part in making the system more sustainable.”
In a positive move for carers the Federal Government announced it would provide $33.7 million over four years from 2015‑16 to create a national gateway for carers to access information, support and referral to carer specific supports and services.
Similar to My Aged Care, the new gateway will consist of a website with service finders and a national call centre via a 1800 number.
The measure pleased consumer advocates including Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett who welcomed the integrated plan to support carers who often provided care to people with dementia.
COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said older people made up a significant proportion of the caring workforce and would also welcome the measure.
“There is no doubt that looking for support services is extremely complicated and time consuming for carers. Measures announced in the Budget to introduce a ‘gateway’ of information over the phone and online will be help alleviate some of the confusion and complexity,” Mr Yates said.
Healthy ageing grants shift to dementia
The government will redesign the Aged Care Service Improvement and Healthy Ageing Grants (ACSIHAG) Fund, which from 1 July this year will be renamed the Dementia and Aged Care Services Fund.
Having been cut by $20.1 million, the fund will provide $365.8 million over four years “for high quality and appropriate care services for older Australians who require sickness, hospital or medical services including people with dementia, people from diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The government will also provide $54.5 million over four years to establish the Severe Behaviour Response Teams, as announced in February.
Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett said she was pleased to see the government recognise the importance of dementia specific services but was concerned about “the impact that the broader cut to this program will have on the sector’s capacity to provide quality of care.”
Catholic Health Australia said the cut to the fund, as well as the reduction to the workforce fund, was likely a casualty of the government’s quest for offsets for any new spending.
Means test change
The government said it will save $26.2 million over five years by aligning aged care means testing arrangements for residents who pay their accommodation costs by daily accommodation payment, or DAP, with those that currently apply to residents paying via a lump sum – a refundable accommodation deposit or RAD.
It removed the rental income exemption for residents who are renting out their former home and paying a DAP but the measure does not affect existing protections such as annual fee caps and lifetime fee caps remain.
HammondCare CEO Dr Stephen Judd said the removal of this anomaly “made sense and was fairer.”
Wound care study dropped
The government also announced it had cancelled funding for the Support Senior Australians — Wound Management Scoping Study that was announced in the 2013‑14 Budget, which would save $300,000 in 2014‑15.