Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 2) Bill 2020; Second Reading
The Morrison government is committed to supporting older Australians to maintain their independence at home to the maximum possible extent. This is something that senior Australians tell us they want, and we are delivering. This bill is yet another important step towards the delivery of improved home care and the aged-care system more broadly now and into the future.
The purpose of this bill is to improve the administration arrangements of paying home-care subsidies to approved providers. It does so through two key reforms. First the bill will require approved providers to report to the Commonwealth as to the cost of care and services provided to home-care recipients each month. Under existing arrangements, approved providers only have to provide a monthly statement to their home-care recipients that show recipients' available funds, how they are being spent and the amount of the unspent funds. This change will ensure improved financial accountability and allow for better transparency over the use of funds for home care.
Second, the bill will require that the Commonwealth retain on behalf of recipients subsidies that may be in excess of services provided, which can be drawn upon in the future. Currently, approved providers hold and manage accumulated unspent funds, including Commonwealth subsidies. This is quite at odds with many other grant schemes and subsidy schemes. The most recent data suggests that the current pool of funds is around an enormous $750 million of taxpayers' funds. Some providers treat these unspent funds as part of their working capital, when they should in fact be recognised as a liability for unspent and undelivered services. This bill will simply correct that. These measures bring contemporary business practices into home-care subsidy arrangements and align them with other government programs. It's what the taxpayer expects. This bill, importantly, will not affect the eligibility of consumers or the amount of home-care subsidy payable for eligible home-care recipients. This bill builds on the first stage of reforms which change home-care subsidies from being paid in advance to being paid in arrears.
Now, who do these reforms benefit? They benefit our beloved mums and dads, grandpas and grandmas, uncles and aunts wishing to enjoy their twilight years at home. We know that most Australians want to remain in their homes for as long as possible, and the Morrison government supports this choice. As we look to the future, we know that Australia's population is ageing rapidly, and people prefer to stay home longer. This does put pressure on our home-care package system. If there is suboptimal in-home care, this can then accelerate the progression of people moving to the next stage of life, which includes more supportive care in a residential setting. It makes great preventive healthcare sense to support people in their homes. We know from the evidence that this is the best case—for people to stay as long as possible. It keeps them connected to their communities, it keeps them active in their minds and it keeps them comfortable in their homes. In-home care keeps people fitter and better connected to their family, and it's more cost-effective to the taxpayer than residential care.
What's also very exciting about this sector is the ability to embrace new technological advances in home monitoring, and those are coming online very rapidly and making a big difference to the way that we care for people in home. My father developed Alzheimer's in his twilight years, and we kept him at home as long as possible with the support of home-care packages, but, as he grew more and more frail, he then needed to move into a residential care setting.
Since the 2018-19 budget, the government has invested $4.6 billion for an additional 73,105 home-care packages. Home-care packages are estimated to increase from 60,000 in 2012-13, when we first came to government, to 185,000 during 2020-21. This is a threefold increase. It's very welcome. The 2020-21 budget includes the delivery of an additional 23,000 home-care packages, at a cost of $1.6 billion, in addition to the 6,000 packages announced in July at a cost of $325 million. This bill is an important step towards helping improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the home-care system and it will enable taxpayers' money to be better spent now and into the future.
I would also like to take the opportunity to talk about the fact that, as the residential aged-care population are ageing even more rapidly than the general population, there is an increased clinical need in that residential aspect of care, and that is actually because the home-care packages the Morrison government is delivering are keeping people home longer and in a more supported environment as a result. Therefore, we need to make sure that we prepare the workforce of the aged-care sector for the future. We need to incentivise clinical leadership through appropriate remuneration packages to ensure that sector leadership is both sufficient and of excellence. We need to make sure that we increase the opportunity for people to take workplace training in regard to aged care, because we know that the aged-care bubble of the baby boomers, as they reach the over-80 age category, is now coming at us at speed.
COVID has also demonstrated the tension between federal aged-care services and state healthcare services. Those facilities that did well provided better in-reach health care, which was provided by local hospitals and GPs. Therefore, I believe that coordination across state and federal jurisdictions is required as we increase the acuity of care in the aged-care sector, and this will help to relieve the state governments' healthcare costs in that sector. But this needs to be achieved without cost-shifting between state and federal governments.
We also need to make sure that standards in aged care are healthcare focused and not just about consumer experience. I'd like to see improving standards with regard to the aged-care sector, to ensure that both consumers' aged care and the health needs of the sector are looked at across home and residential and subacute residential care.
The Morrison government has delivered and will continue to deliver on aged care, now and into the future. It's too important not to care about. We know that older Australians have worked their entire lives to build this great country. This bill will form a part of a suite of aged-care reforms which aim to provide a contemporary, efficient, effective and stable care system for the aged, which they need and deserve. I welcome this bill and look forward to working hard in this place to ensure that the vitality and effectiveness of the aged-care sector more broadly continues now and into the future. I commend this bill to the House.