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Government wants to ‘eliminate ACAR altogether’ says Fifield

Mitch Fifield tells providers the government plans to end ACAR in residential aged care, wants a “more sophisticated” definition of quality in aged care, and expects reform roadmap to be completed by year’s end

The Federal Government has given its strongest support yet for scrapping ACAR in residential aged care, with Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield acknowledging the current system lacks transparency and is inefficient for both providers and consumers.

Senator Mitch Fifield addressing the Perth audience. Photo: Richard O'Leary

Senator Mitch Fifield addressing the Perth audience. Photo: Richard O’Leary

Senator Fifield said the reforms in home care announced in the Budget, which will see packages go to consumers rather than providers from February 2017, “gets me halfway to my goal of eliminating the ACAR process altogether, including from residential aged care.”

Echoing long-standing sector criticisms of the ACAR, Senator Fifield said the process involved expense for providers and often did not provide sufficient explanation for why they were or were not successful in a round. The process was similarly unsatisfactory for consumers, he said, as after a senior was assessed by an ACAT they had to “look for a provider who happens to have a package and hope they have a package at the level they’re assessed.”

Speaking at the ACSA/IAHSA Joint International Conference on Wednesday, Senator Fifield acknowledged it was difficult to match providers and consumers within the current system.

He said he recognised that a move towards more consumer-directed care in residential aged care had to be balanced with the certainty that residential providers needed. “We’re not going to rush head long into anything in that regard that we haven’t worked through together with the sector. I want to make that clear.”

Reform roadmap by year’s end

Senator Fifield told the Perth audience that Aged Care Sector Committee was developing a roadmap for the next stages of reform and was due to provide its advice to government by the end of the year.

On the specific challenges facing service provision in rural and remote Australia, which had been raised consistently throughout the conference, Senator Fifield said he was keeping a “watching brief” and acknowledged that models which worked well in metropolitan areas might not work as well in regional or rural areas.

“Rest assured I am not someone who will allow design elegance in policy to get in way of practical outcomes on the ground. We have to recognise there are different operational realities for providers who are further way from metropolitan areas,” he said.

Elsewhere, Senator Fifield said the Federal Government was keen for a more sophisticated definition of quality in aged care.

“We should take safety as the bedrock, as a given. Quality is really what providers do above the basic safety standards; quality is what providers do when they exceed the expectations of consumers.”

The government wanted to see if there could be greater consistency between the different quality frameworks governing home care and residential care, he said.

“I have asked the Quality Agency advisory council to work with consumers and providers on this more sophisticated definition of quality,” he said.

As Australian Ageing Agenda reported last week, the Quality Agency has produced a discussion paper on quality in aged care and is seeking feedback from stakeholders.

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