ELECTION: The need for a full and independent review of ACFI is a key issue facing the sector, Greens spokesperson on ageing Senator Rachel Siewert tells AAA

The Commonwealth Government has been “fast and loose” with its explanation for the controversial budget changes to the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI), the Greens spokesperson on ageing Rachel Siewert has said.

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While the government has said that as many as “one in five” ACFI claims were found to be too high, Senator Siewert said that these were the claims the Department of Health had chosen to assess.

Furthermore, the department “should not be hiding behind the caretaker” conventions in refusing to release the modelling behind the decision, Senator Siewert told Australian Ageing Agenda, adding it would be appropriate for the department to provide it.

“It’s not just providers asking for that – all the different stakeholders in the sector are asking for that modelling to be released; we’re joining that call, not just supporting it,” she said.

Senator Siewert added that she was “extremely concerned” about the impact the government’s changes would have on the provision of aged care.

In the May budget, the government announced it would make changes to the ACFI which would save $1.2 billion over four years, which followed a previous reduction in subsidies of $472 million in December.

AAA asked the department whether the “one in five” ACFI claims were ones chosen at random. A response was not provided by deadline.

Cost of care study needed

Senator Siewert said the latest cuts to ACFI highlighted the need for a cost of care study in aged care, which has been a long-standing call in the sector.

“The government needs to be doing that; then we’d have a better picture of what the true cost is,” she said.

Senator Rachel Siewert
Senator Rachel Siewert

A full and independent review of the funding instrument was also needed, she said. “Genuine reform of the instrument should be driven by an independent review, not by government saying we want to cut funding here and there.”

And where providers were found to be effectively gaming the system the government should be coming down on them, Senator Siewert said: “If they’re abusing the tool they need to be held accountable for that.”

Workforce issues increasing with CDC

Elsewhere, Senator Siewert said that if re-elected she intended to get the Senate inquiry into the aged care workforce back up and running as soon as possible.

“The process is you don’t lose anything, all the submissions we’ve received, of which there are hundreds, are kept on the system …we just start where we stopped basically,” said Senator Siewert, who instigated the inquiry.

It was clear that some key workforce issues were coming up through the inquiry, she said, including those arising from the introduction of consumer directed care and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“With all the reforms across the various sectors, including disability and aged care, it shouldn’t be the workforce that pays the price for that, because at the moment they’re going to have less certainty around their work, more casualisation of the work, and that’s a concern if we also want a qualified and skilled workforce,” she said.

“We need to ensure that we’re putting in place the supports to make sure that happens.”

View on future reform

Asked for the Greens’ position on the proposals for further reform of aged care put forward in the Aged Care Roadmap, Senator Siewert said it was “overall a good document and a good process.”

She said that while she understood Labor’s position that issues arising from the current reforms had to be addressed first, Senator Siewert argued that it was important to “start moving” on the proposed changes as there would likely be significant issues with implementing some of them, specifically the removal of caps on residential aged care supply.

“People keep shying away from it [but] we need to start the discussion because it’s going to take a long time to reach consensus on those issues and in order to do that we need to engage all the stakeholders and look at whether we can get multi-party support for that approach,” she said.

Dementia, palliative care among key policy issues

Discussing the Greens’ policies in aged care and ageing, which would be released in coming weeks, Senator Siewert said that supporting older Australians in employment, and improving the provision of care and support to people living with dementia, were key areas of focus.

She also pointed to the Greens’ recently released policy on palliative care, which was an issue that affected many in the community but seniors and those living in residential aged care particularly.

As part of our Election 2016 coverage, Australian Ageing Agenda has also sought interviews with Minister for Aged Care Sussan Ley and the Labor spokesperson on ageing Shayne Neumann. 

More AAA election coverage:

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  1. Rachel reflects a long term industry position of seeking a comprehensive review of the cost of care. All the previous industry reviews accepted the position that current subsidy was adequate and therefore reflected the “actual” cost of service provision.
    However, all aged care providers know that if there resident is sent to the acute sector government will pay at least $800.00 per day for that person who will only receive $180.00 once returned to residential care, whilst being provided at least the same as and often better care than in the acute sector.
    The New Zealand Government agreed to undertake a cost of care study four years ago. Which showed a substantial differential between care costs and existing subsidy levels.
    If it is good enough for NZ then surely Australia can do the same.

  2. A “cost of care” study covering every statistical region in Australia is indeed long overdue, recommended in the Productivity Commission and other reviews before it even.
    Governments of either persuasion are simply too afraid to have any cost of care study undertaken because it will reveal the very obvious and that might cost them.

    Rod Young brings up a very valid point about how much it costs to keep a frail aged person in hospital overnight compared with a residential aged care facility – but that doesn’t seem to matter because it shifts the cost from Federal to State.

    Meanwhile, the Dept recalibrates ACFI to reduce costs as a budget cut and the quality of care for our residents requiring high levels of care is severely threatened.

  3. Any money spent on “studies” is again taking money away from the sector that so desperately needs it. It is a completely unfair and unjust proposition to cut funding to aged care to “balance a budget”. Funding for aged care is not a catch all bucket to be used at the government’s whim. There’s so much hot air talking about “taking care of our frail and aged”, why can’t we just get on with it?
    The Department should be focusing reviews on particular providers, it already has the claim data at its fingertips. It just needs extraction and analysis. Why punish ALL providers for the sake of a few who are not doing the right thing?
    ACFI funding is ridiculously complex, onerous and counter productive. Why do we have some subsidies reviewed annually, some half yearly, some quarterly? Why are some grandfathered subsidies altered by a matter of cents? Why does the Department send reviews of means tested fees every quarter which can be for as little as a cent or two?
    It would be a simple process to rationalise all of this, but of course, we wouldn’t need so many public servants…and therein lies significant cost savings.

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