Politicians have debated a proposed change to aged care legislation.
Politicians have debated a proposed change to aged care legislation.

Proposed change to aged care bill debated in parliament

UPDATE:

LABOR politicians in the House of Representatives have used a parliamentary debate around a proposed legislation change to slam the Federal Government's delivery of home care packages, saying thousands of elderly people are dying while they wait.

The Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1) Bill 2020 would change the government's payment system for home care packages, making it similar to how NDIS subsidies are delivered.

A home care package is a funding amount which is delivered to a provider in order to render services to elderly people who have been approved.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck says the new method would amend existing legislation so providers will receive a subsidy at the end of each month after lodging a claim - instead of receiving a sum from which underpayments need to be rectified and where overpayments are withheld from future payments.

But home care providers, particularly smaller, regional services such as Bundaberg's Ezyas at Home, are fearful they'll be left in the lurch for up to a month over the financial year where a gap between the two systems will leave them lacking funds.

Speaking in Parliament House today, Victorian MP Joanne Ryan accused the government of "protecting a budget surplus over protecting the elderly", saying the move would put a sum of between $250 million to $350 million into government coffers in time to help bring the budget to surplus.

"(People) don't care about your budget surplus, but they do care about their mothers and fathers," she said.

Fellow Labor MP Ged Kearney said the proposed "arrears" style payment method was flawed, citing an example where one NDIS provider had been left waiting on $270,000 worth of funding.

Others questioned why new legislation was being "rushed" through before the final handing down of the Royal Commission into Aged Care findings expected in November.

In a statement released this week, CEO of provider body Leading Aged Care Services Sean Rooney called for support to be offered to home care providers if the legislation change goes ahead.

He said he was concerned about how unused funds will be spent.

"LASA wants a commitment from the government that all savings will be directed into funding additional packages, to help reduce the current queue of 112,000 people waiting for their approved level of care," Mr Rooney said.

"The rapid implementation of the proposed payment changes could also put older Australians at risk, by reducing the viability of some services and increasing administrative costs.

"Why is there such a rush on the legislation, when it could put people at risk of missed care?"

Mr Rooney said providers had not been given enough notice.

Bundaberg home care package provider Ms Allen also cited a lack of notification and consultation.

"It's very little time to prepare," she said.

"With the proposed June 2020 commencement date only confirmed last week, providers are being asked to adapt to a significant change in payment terms at short notice," Mr Rooney said.

"Submissions from both the Aged Care Financing Authority and LASA have raised concerns that some providers will face major cash flow problems and may not be able to afford the transition."

Minister Colbeck said the measure was announced in the 2019/20 Budget which was handed down in April last year.
Ms Allen says aged care providers need more, not less.

"They're being pressured to increase funding to aged care and then they do this to providers," she said.

"Everybody will have to cover that month somehow."

But the change in payment legislation was not the only burning issue, with MPs claiming wait times for high level home care packages had blown out drastically, with elderly people dying or being forced into aged care facilities as a consequence.

New South Wales MP Matthew Thistlethwaite said he'd taken a call from one 93-year-old who said she had been waiting more than 12 months for her home care package to be delivered, while Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of only caring about "advertising and marketing".

The NewsMail put questions to the aged care minister about claims made by Ms Ryan as well as around the number of people waiting for home care packages in the Hinkler region.

The paper also contacted MP Keith Pitt who referred the NewsMail to the minister. 

A response was not available in time for deadline.

A decision on the bill has been adjourned until March 23.

EARLIER: 

The body representing aged care providers says small, regional home care services are going to be left in the lurch if proposed legislation around government payments goes ahead.

It's a sentiment echoed by Judith Allen, who has been running Ezyas at Home, a small, government-approved home care service in Bundaberg.

The government maintains, however, that the new legislation would address concerns around unspent funds in the industry.

The Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1 Bill 2020), currently being debated in in the House of Representatives, would see providers receive funds in a similar way to how NDIS subsidies are delivered.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck says the new system will amend existing legislation so that providers will receive a monthly subsidy at the end of each month after lodging a claim - instead of receiving a sum from which underpayments need to be rectified and where overpayments are withheld from future payments.

"Providers currently receive the monthly subsidy for a home care recipient in advance, using an estimate based on previous months," he said.

"The provider then lodges a claim after the end of the month, at which time a reconciliation occurs.

"Underpayments of subsidy are then rectified immediately, while overpayments are withheld from future payments."

Leading Aged Care Services CEO Sean Rooney has called for support to be offered to home care providers because he believes the transition over the new financial year will leave providers having to fill in a month-long gap without government funding.

Additionally, he is concerned about how unused funds will be spent.

"LASA wants a commitment from the government that all savings will be directed into funding additional packages, to help reduce the current queue of 112,000 people waiting for their approved level of care," Mr Rooney said.

"The rapid implementation of the proposed payment changes could also put older Australians at risk, by reducing the viability of some services and increasing administrative costs.

"Why is there such a rush on the legislation, when it could put people at risk of missed care?"

Mr Rooney said providers had not been given enough notice to get ready.

Provider Ms Allen also cited a lack of notification and consultation.

"It's very little time to prepare," she said.

"With the proposed June 2020 commencement date only confirmed last week, providers are being asked to adapt to a significant change in payment terms at short notice," Mr Rooney said.

"Submissions from both the Aged Care Financing Authority and LASA have raised concerns that some providers will face major cash flow problems and may not be able to afford the transition.

"With the legislation being debated, we still don't have answers on whether - as per the Aged Care Financing Authority recommendations - there will be transitional grants or loans available to providers in need and special consideration given to regional and remote providers and those in 'thin' markets."

Minister Colbeck said the measure was announced in the 2019/20 Budget which was handed down in April last year.

Ms Allen says aged care providers need more, not less.

"They're being pressured to increase funding to aged care and then they do this to providers," she said.

"Everybody will have to cover that month somehow."



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