Most of the Federal Government’s 14,000 extra high care packages announced in the May Budget will be released into the system over the next two years, the Department of Health has confirmed.
The department told Community Care Review an additional 8,700 Level 3 and 4 packages as part of the budget measure would flow into the national pool in the next 12 months.
“The release strategy will support the market to respond to demand and grow sustainably,” a departmental spokesperson said.
The department’s Fiona Buffinton told a Senate estimates hearing last week it was releasing the majority of the extra packages over the next financial year to ensure the benefits could be realised “as early as possible.”
The Turnbull Government allocated $1.6 billion over four years to the budget measure, which is being funded by reallocating unused residential care funding to home care.
While welcomed by the sector, the budget measure falls short of the additional investment many in the sector were calling for.
The latest government data shows there are 82,000 older people waiting on the national queue for a Level 3 or 4 package.
In the budget, the government announced it would combine the residential and home care programs from 1 July to allow for greater flexibility in the allocation of aged care funding.
Previously, unused residential care funding was returned to consolidated revenue.
Officials told the Senate community affairs hearing demand for residential care was lower than expected and the underutilised funds had been redirected to home care places under the flexible approach.
The extra high-level packages in the budget follow the government’s decision in September to convert 17,825 Level 1 and 2 packages into 6,000 high care packages. These packages have been released into the national pool and the measure was cost neutral to government.
CHSP and packages
At Budget estimates, the department also revealed for the first time around a quarter of the 105,000 older people on the home care queue are in the Commonwealth Home Support Program.
It was previously unknown how many people were accessing entry-level supports while they waited on the package queue.
While these clients have access to an interim service, industry peak bodies have previously raised concerns over the sustainability of redirecting consumers needing a home care package to the entry-level CHSP.
On the proposed merger of the CHSP and home care packages program first flagged in the 2015 budget, the department reiterated that no decisions had been made.
The health department said it had just received a report from the National Aged Care Alliance as part of its further consultation on the future of the community aged care programs.
There was no consensus within the sector on a preferred funding model for an integrated program and it was continuing to explore the issues, the department said.
Elsewhere at the hearing, in response to questions on the return of unspent funds, officials said the department was undertaking a pilot audit program of home care provider data submitted to the Department of Human Services.
The results of the data audit would inform the development of compliance measures for home care in the move to a single quality framework and new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, the Senate committee was told.
Around $76.5 million in unspent funds has been returned to the government since the beginning of the Increasing Choice in Home Care changes.