Worker representative group Health Services Union is calling for an increase in the Medicare levy to inject $20 billion into the aged care sector for more workers.
Australia can transform the aged care system in four years by increasing the Medicare levy from 2 per cent to 2.65 per cent to create an additional 59,000 jobs, according to economic modelling undertaken by Equity Economists for HSU.
The funding will provide aged care residents an additional 89 minutes of care per day from allied health therapists, registered nurses and carers, according to the report HSU submitted to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to inform the upcoming hearings on aged care finance.
The injection will also create a five-star aged care staffing system according to international standards as found by Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI) in its research report for the aged care royal commission.
Health Services Union national president Gerard Hayes said the Medicare levy needed to be lifted to fund fully-staffed, quality aged care.
“If we can’t eradicate issues, we should minimise issues. And we’re doing neither in terms of the aged care funding. It needs to be addressed or we will see more people succumb to conditions that they really don’t need to,” Mr Hayes told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“We’re looking at the aged care sector, we’re looking at an ageing population and it’s not getting any better. It’s only going to get consistently worse,” he said.
HSU’s report also highlights AHSRI’s finding that based on current staffing levels 42.5 per cent of Australian aged care homes are considered satisfactory under the United States’ rating system.
Mr Hayes said it was surprising that staffing levels at so many aged care homes was unsatisfactory.
“I know there are a lot of employers and organisations doing the best they can with what they have and what they have is not enough, so it needs to change,” he said.
The first step to improving care delivery in aged care is agreement that there are issues, said Mr Hayes.
“I think the first thing is that government and opposition need to agree that yes there is a problem and there is a funding problem, he said.
He said he also welcomed alternative views on short-term and long-term funding options.
“Those who don’t necessarily agree with [increasing the Medicare levy], there don’t seem to be any other ideas, so we would welcome any other viewpoints to be put forward in relation to the funding of aged care short term and long term,” he said.
“I don’t see any other sourcing stream or income stream that is going to be able to address the level of issue that there is in aged care,” he said.
Peaks support lifting the levy
Provider peak bodies Aged and Community Services and Leading Age Services Australia welcomed the call to lift the Medicare levy to 2.65 per cent.
ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow told AAA “it’s absolutely a plausible option.”
ACSA is also open to other funding options, Ms Sparrow said.
“We’re relatively agnostic about how they improve the funding, but what is incontrovertibly clear now is that the funding needs to be increased.
“Whether that’s through the Medicare levy, general revenue or a combination of increased general revenue and what people are paying, as long as there is enough funding for services to be viable and to meet what people need, then that’s what we’re interested in,” Ms Sparrow said.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney told AAA “Australians should be ready to pay for the delivering of an acceptable standard of care to our elderly.”
This could also involve changes to user contributions, he said.
“But changes to user contributions seem unlikely to deliver all the funding that would be required to implement the recommendations the royal commission has been contemplating,” he said.
Mr Rooney said Australians and both major political parties have previously supported a higher Medicare levy to cover other issues, including funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“Why should the care of our elderly be less important than health, disability or disaster recovery?” he said.
Access the report, Delivering decent residential aged care: Funding the care elderly Australians deserve here.