• 10 November 2016

Aged care funding crisis affects you

by Geoff Batkin – Chair, Aged Care National Network

The current and growing funding crisis in aged care affects all of us, whether we're eight years old or eighty.

It affects us directly.

Not many Australians realise how important aged care is to the wellbeing of the society we live in. Not only does it take care of the most vulnerable amongst older Australians, it is also a vital and growing part of the Australian economy.

At any one time, there are over 350,000 people in aged care facilities or supported while still living at home; at the same time, another 350,000 people are involved as staff and carers.

Severe cutbacks to aged care funding announced in the May 2016 budget threaten people in care and their carers, and of particular concern is the Government's own estimated $1.2 billion reduction to the complex health care component of the Aged Care Funding Instrument. This is on top of an earlier cut of $750 million announced in December 2015.

Independent modelling by Ansell Strategic and released by UnitingCare Australia in July shows the real impact of these cuts will be $2.5 billion over four years, $840 million more than the Government's own forward estimates.

This will affect the care available to the most vulnerable and frail among us. On average, the cuts would reduce the funding to care for aged care residents by $6,650 per resident, per year. For residents with very complex needs, such as dementia, arthritis, heart disease, lung disease, incontinence and mobility issues, the cuts could extend to approximately $18,000 a year. In rural and regional areas, the funding reduction will cut even deeper.

These cuts go too far.

Cuts will jeopardise appropriate health care provided to frail elderly.

They seriously jeopardise our ability to provide appropriate health care to frail older people: people with complex health care needs. They will force aged care providers to review staffing levels and admission strategies across the country. Hospitals, already under enormous pressure, will be forced to pick up the extra case load.

To be blunt, if these cuts are implemented, by 2017 service providers could be forced to consider reducing services and turning away old people who are sick and seeking admission from hospital.

Both responses are unacceptable to UnitingCare Australia and should ring alarm bells for all Australians. We want to work with the Government to develop funding approaches that ensure government funding is allocated where it is most needed and in a way that promotes quality aged care.

The victims of these cuts are not cost items on a budget spreadsheet, but family and friends.

To be blunt, if these cuts are implemented, by 2017 service providers could be forced to consider reducing services and turning away old people who are sick and seeking admission from hospital.
We want to work with the Government to develop a more sustainable funding model.

For example, George – not his real name – is 87 and has Parkinson's Disease, prostate cancer, dementia, back fractures, high blood pressure, high levels of pain and is fully incontinent. His pain, dementia and depression can trigger behaviour that requires constant supervision. He requires assistance with all aspects of personal care and toileting, and is on a range of medications.

If George was admitted to our care after January 2017 or his needs required to be reassessed, the funding to meet his health care would also be $18,596 less each year than before the cuts.

The Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) process involves complex needs assessments. The vast majority of ACFI claims are clearly substantiated, pointing to real growth in demand as the reason for increasing costs.

We understand it is important to manage the growth in health and aged care expenditure, but not in a way that jeopardises the health of the most vulnerable in our community. Putting aged care providers out of business, when demand for places exceeds supply, is not the way to achieve this.

UnitingCare Australia believes the best outcome will be achieved if the Government works with the industry and client groups to implement the existing Roadmap for Aged Care, including with a sustainable model for funding. The industry wants to invest in aged care and in our workforce, but the lack of long term security is standing in the way of this.

We must also keep in mind that the number of people over 65 will double to 28% of the population over the next 40 years. Most of us are heading towards aged care of some kind at some point in our future. This issue affects each and every one of us.

In the end, it's important we all remember that a society's worth isn't measured by its wealth, but by its humanity.

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