The Federal Government’s proposed merger of the Commonwealth Home Support Program and home care packages has been pushed back until July 2020, budget papers show.
The Coalition policy was first announced in the 2015 budget but little progress has been made to integrate the two programs by the government’s slated start date of July 2018.
With much of the government’s focus directed to the February 2017 changes in home care, consultations on the second stage of community aged care reform are still at a very early stage.
To bide the government more time on the merger, Tuesday’s budget announced a $5.5 billion extension of existing CHSP contracts and My Aged Care Regional Assessment Services for two years.
While the move provides certainty to CHSP providers, whose funding agreements were set to expire on 30 June 2018, the measure puts on hold the creation of a single, integrated community aged care program for another two years.
Under the budget measure, two-year funding agreements will also be offered to WA HACC service and assessment providers, which are joining the CHSP from 1 July 2018.
In Victoria, current CHSP funding agreements expire on 30 June 2019. Victorian providers will be offered new contracts for 12 months until mid-2020, which will bring that state into line with other jurisdictions.
New funding conditions will also be attached to the extended CHSP contracts to increase the program’s focus on wellness and consumer choice, the government announced.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health told Community Care Review a discussion paper for consultation on further reform of the community aged care system will be released in coming weeks and no decisions had yet been made about the implementation of a new integrated program.
“The government wants to hear further from the sector on what stakeholders believe is the best way forward on future reform.”
The department said the extension of the CHSP to mid-2020 would allow “current reforms to bed down” and the government to consider further feedback from stakeholders.
The government will also consider the recommendations of the Aged Care Legislated Review and alignment with the Aged Care Roadmap before making decisions on additional reform, the spokesperson said.
Responding to the delay, Aged & Community Services Australia acknowledged there was still much work required to consolidate the two community aged care programs into a single system.
“It will be important that government now undertake the development work to ensure the new program commences in full on 1 July 2020 with an integrated assessment workforce and consistent fees policies,” said ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow.
While COTA Australia welcomed the CHSP’s increased focus on wellness, the consumer peak said it opposed the decision to extend RAS contracts for another two years.
Chief executive Ian Yates said the creation of an integrated aged care assessment service, combining the My Aged Care RASs and ACATs, was urgent.
“An integrated aged care assessment service is an essential building block in the aged care reform process and its development should proceed without delay,” he said.
Over the next three years, the consolidation of the two programs will need to work through a number of issues including the share of individualised versus block funding, means testing, and approved provider arrangements.
The $5.5 billion measure does not have an impact on the budget as the additional funding for CHSP was already contained in the forward estimates.
In 2015, when in the role as minister with responsibility for aged care, Senator Mitch Fifield described a consolidated home support and home care package as the next “logical step” in community care reform.
This story was updated to include a response from the Department of Health.