Thursday, 14 May 2020
Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Emergency Leave) Bill 2020; In Committee
I have no intention of dragging this out. There are some issues that I want to ask the minister about and get on the record. Minister, in your second reading contribution just then you referred to a point I raised during my second reading contribution, which was around the issue of hospital leave. You made the point that it is unlimited. It is my understanding that there is not a restriction on the number of days that somebody can be in hospital out of residential aged care but they still do have to keep paying their accommodation costs and daily fee. Is that not a correct understanding?
The information I have is that when a person is hospitalised for more than 28 days the subsidy paid to the provider is reduced by 50 per cent, but, unlike a social leave, the consumer is not required to pay this. The consumer can be hospitalised for an unlimited number of days and will have no financial penalty as a result. You perhaps may be talking about additional fees, which are a different matter. They are paid in any circumstance, under any form of leave. That's a different matter again to the base fees, as I understand it.
The circumstance is exactly the same as with social leave. So, those daily fees that apply, the residents continue to pay with respect to social leave and hospital leave.
Thank you for that clarification. I suspected that some people are paying fees that they shouldn't be paying, in that case. Do the emergency leave provisions also apply to the other types of aged care services—CHSP, Flexi Care and home care? If not, why not?
We'll have to get some advice for you specifically on that. I'm happy to come back to you with respect to that. But in the current circumstance I know where some people have decided they don't want to receive the services that they're attributed under the home care package, for example. My understanding is their package continued to accumulate, in that sense—so they're not receiving the services. Obviously, we would like them to continue to receive the services, because that's what they've been assessed to do. That's why we put in place the callback service through OPAN and some of the consumer peaks—so that we can call the receivers of the service, check their circumstances and see if they need any other services, but talk to them about continuing to receive the services that they have been assessed as requiring under their home care package, for example.
That's reminded me to make a quick comment, which is that in my second reading contribution I did acknowledge the extra effort that has been put into the provision of extra supports for services where there has been an outbreak. My criticism—not criticism, but comment—extends more broadly, where we know there is understaffing in aged care, and that is continuing. It is shown by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation that, in fact, this is continuing. So, the situation prior to the pandemic still exists in many aged care services. We're having the aged care royal commission for a reason and those reasons haven't gone away. But I do very readily acknowledge that you have made a very strong effort and made a lot of investment in helping those facilities that have had an outbreak of coronavirus.
That takes me to the point of your comments about, particularly, home care services, where people have suspended them because they are in isolation and were concerned to make sure that they didn't have anyone in their home. Are you assured that, where an older person in receipt of a package has decided to suspend the service, services are not continuing to charge people? What action have you taken to make sure that services are not continuing to charge services, even though they're not being provided, and what checking up have you done on that?
I'll have to come back to you with some advice on that. I think it's a very legitimate question. We have been concerned to ensure that residents, as I have indicated earlier, continue to receive the care. There have been some services that have been suspended by service providers during the outbreak. I know that some of those services have subsequently recommenced, because I've made some specific inquiries with respect to some of those myself. But I'll have to check and I will come back to you with specific details around what charges may have continued, or not.
Thank you, Minister. That is very much appreciated. I want to go to an issue—and this has been directly raised with us—around a point that I made in my second reading contribution, which is this issue around the number of days to accept or reject a package. It is 52 days at the moment. I think that's correct. Let me know if I've got that bit wrong. But there is a delay in Australia Post at the moment—I know that from personal experience. Has this matter been raised with you? If not, I'm raising it with you. Have you considered that you could extend that slightly so that people get the length of time that was intended for them to consider their position?
It's not an issue that has been raised with me as a concern. I note that the opposition were also raising concerns about the continued rollout of home-care packages, and the rollout we've committed to has continued despite the COVID-19 circumstance; in fact, it's ahead of schedule at this point in time. We also acknowledge and recognise the need for growth in home-care packages, which is why we've invested so heavily in that space over the last 18 months. But that particular issue hasn't been raised with me. I will seek some advice around the average time taken to take up a package, which will probably give me an indicator of that. I note that, in some of the previous reports that I've received, the time to take up a residential home-care place has extended and that I think goes not to the availability of residential places but to the time people are using to make a decision. I'll see if I can get some information for you and come back to you with respect to the time taken to take up a home-care package.
That is very much appreciated, thank you, Minister. You, in fact, pre-empted my next question, which was about waiting lists. You may not be able to provide, so you might have to take it on notice, how many people are actually waiting now for a home-care package?
I wanted to go back to the issue of hospital leave. As I said, this issue has been raised with us. Does the department check whether people are being charged for fees that, in fact, they shouldn't be being charged for when they're in hospital?
I have to get you some advice on that, but we are doing a piece of work right now with respect to additional service fees and additional fees. Because clarity has been an issue both for residents and providers, we're doing some work on how we might make those matters more transparent and clear for both providers and for residents.
I'm trying to get it done as quickly as possible, bearing in mind there are a few other things going on in the aged care portfolio at the moment. But I know that both providers and residents are seeking some clarity in this and so I'm looking to try and get that clarity provided for everybody as quickly as possible. I don't have a specific end date. I've been working on it for a couple of months now but I'm looking to get it done as quickly as possible.