Home care system needs more work to prevent failure

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

The Federal Government’s consumer-directed home care program has a risk of failing, despite almost universal support for it among older people, according to National Seniors Australia.

National Seniors Research Director Professor John McCallum said today 98 per cent of its members believed choice of home care services was important, regardless of their age, with those living on the Age Pension most likely to say it was ‘extremely important’.

And despite reports of ‘endless horror stories’ about the My Aged Care website, more than half said they were satisfied with it, although this might have been with assistance from family and friends.

Prof McCallum said a recent National Seniors survey of 4,267 members had revealed some problems with the new system, including lack of choice, high administration fees and insufficient care packages.

It had also revealed 20 per cent of respondents had no confidence of being able to choose a provider to suit their needs and another 35 per cent were unsure.

Prof McCallum said confidence was particularly low among residents of regional communities, where the number of providers was low or non-existent.

Despite this, support for the concept of consumer-directed home care was high, with consumers wanting choice and flexibility in aged care.

Until February this year, Australian home care services were in packages awarded to service providers.

Now older consumers are assessed for funding, which they can use to ‘purchase’ services from providers of their choice.

The system is designed to allow older people to age in their own homes and communities, rather than moving to nursing homes.

“This is like shifting from a ‘command’ to a ‘market’ economy,” Prof McCallum said. “But what we found was that people don’t know what to buy or how to buy it, and the system can’t respond without change and further development.

“The experience here in Australia is what’s happened elsewhere in the world during the start-up phase of consumer-directed systems. People, particularly those who are most vulnerable, just aren’t used to having choice, and we must ensure that we don’t allow the system to fail at the starting gate.

“With such overwhelming support for choice, we need to reform consumer-directed care to make it work and ensure we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Prof McCallum said National Seniors was eager to work with the Federal Government to ensure the success of consumer-directed home care.

“Consumer-directed care is something our members want,” he said. “But consumers need help in making the right choices, more advocates to work with them if they are unsure what to do, and improved digital literacy skills to make the My Aged Care website more accessible.”

National Seniors’ new research report Consumer Directed Care in Australia: Early stage analysis and future directions is available at https://nationalseniors.com.au/cdc.