Aged care sector needs reform, not judgement

Aged care funding has been a contentious issue for the government, for providers, for those in care and for those who foot the bill at the consumer end. And while the government has come under fire from many sides, YourLifeChoices included, it should be said that there are many sides to the issue.

No-one knows this more than Aged Care Steps director and regular YourLifeChoices contributor Louise Biti. Today, she offers a side to the aged care argument that doesn’t get the headlines but deserves more airtime.

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Aged care is such an emotional issue, and sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

Sometimes, personal views on what the government and/or aged providers are or are not doing can be a bit harsh.

We all agree the aged care sector needs reform, but it is a big sector that relies heavily on workforce and infrastructure, so reforms are not going to happen quickly.

This is why, in last year’s Budget, the government announced a five-year reform package (which is under way). But more money is needed now, so additional money has been provided while the reforms are worked through.  

The additional $10 per day announced last year gave providers a small boost to improve services and came with reporting requirements. The reporting was largely about accessing better data on standards and quality so the government can ensure reforms lead to improvements. This $10 was not just for food and nutrition, but was also to improve other services.

Improving food is not just the cost of food, but also the cost of wages to employ additional (or more qualified) staff to cover the full day, as this could be more than one standard shift of catering staff.

I feel the biggest hurdle for true aged care reform is that we (as consumers) want the government to solve all problems for us and are often unwilling to contribute ourselves to the services we receive.

I think it is fair to say that a person living at home on a full single age pension of $70.54 per day will say it is difficult to pay all the bills, meet living expenses and provide quality meals.

But for a daily contribution of $54.69 per day in aged care (basic daily fee), we expect to receive 24/7 personal care, regulated heating/cooling and immediate and attentive care.

I am not saying these expectations are unreasonable, but perhaps we should also be prepared to pay more for quality of lifestyle as well as for quality of care. Reforming aged care is a whole-of-community problem – with roles to be played by governments and aged care providers as well as by people who access the care and their families.

Reports from Stewart Brown and other industry commentators are showing that even after the additional $10 per day, around half of aged care providers are running operational losses – not a great or sustainable business model. And with unions pushing for higher wages (with wages comprising around 70 per cent of operational costs) it does not take much imagination to work out what impact that will have.

While we provide support to consumers to help understand finances and make care affordable, I am in favour of reforming and increasing consumer contributions.

We see the capacity for many people to contribute more fairly towards their costs, rather than [leaving funds] for children looking for an inheritance grab.

If fees could be fairly reformed, it would improve standards for everyone and allow greater capacity to support those who really can’t afford more.

Planning and expert financial advice can help a person to understand their affordability and plan for quality of lifestyle and care in their later years.

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Written by Louise Biti

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