The Rudd Government has introduced its first major amendment to the Aged Care Act to parliament.
A major feature of the bill, which is aimed at providing “further protection” to older Australians in care, is a tightening of regulations around accommodation bonds and similar payments.
A statement from the Minister for Ageing, Justine said the amendment would put “beyond doubt that the primary purpose of ‘sanctions’ is to protect current and future residents and their interests”.
The proposed legislation would also expand the range of people classified as “key personnel”, in a bid to prevent providers with poor quality records from operating aged care facilities through shelf companies or business fronts.
“Aged care homes have grown from a cottage industry with a typical one-site, one-service to a complex sector with intricate financial and legal arrangements with dozens of operations,” said Mrs Elliot.
“The changes ensure scrutiny of those pulling the financial strings and that, regardless of the corporate structure adopted, the relevant protections and provisions apply to aged care providers.”
But a senior industry figure said the bill focuses too much on compliance and ignores problems with the “outdated” pricing and regulatory arrangements.
“The Labor Government’s only focus appears to be on increasing the already overburdened regulatory system in the aged care industry and [it] continues to underfund the industry,” said ACSA National President, Klaus Zimmerman.
“It expects more and more compliance from the industry without any acknowledgment that major structural reform is needed now.”
Mr Zimmerman added that many providers were unable to raise capital in high care, limiting the amount of available aged care places.
“We call on the federal government to make it clear what their intentions are, going forward, and to address the outstanding issues from the Hogan report and respond to the [recent] Productivity Commission report,” he said.
Some of aspects of the bill, however, might help to remove inefficiencies in the aged care system.
In a bid to reduce unnecessary re-assessments, the proposed law would allow ACAT (Aged Care Assessment Team) approvals to last beyond their current 12-month shelf life.
At the same time, the government plans to provide an extra $72.16 million to the states to boost ACAT services.
The new law would also allow for the prompt transfer of aged care places that are not yet operational, in “exceptional circumstances”.