Excessive exit fees and minimum notice periods could turn the hype of increased choice and control in home care into a fallacy, an advocacy group has warned.
Brenton Pope from Aged Rights Advocacy Service told the ADA Australia conference last week the potential for fees and contract terms to act as barriers to consumers voting with their feet had already been identified as an issue to monitor.
Many providers were still grappling with the transition to operating in a market-based aged care system where organisations compete for customers by selling the value of their service, Mr Pope said.
When compared to other service industries, the home care sector had a way to go before it was fully operating on a market-based model that facilitated genuine choice and free movement, he argued.
“Fundamental to the consumer having choice and control is the ability to come and go as you please,” Mr Pope told Community Care Review.
“My local butcher doesn’t tell me that if I want to go somewhere else for my meat it will cost me $500, and my local baker doesn’t tell me that if I want my bread somewhere else I need to give him 30 days’ notice.”
In many ways consumer choice was still constrained in home care – for instance, in a rural and remote context where market competition did not exist, said Mr Pope.
Importance of consumer advocates
Another key principle to a market model is the ability for consumers to make direct comparisons between services and independent advocacy would be increasingly important in a consumer-directed environment.
“It is essential to have a strong and independent advocacy service to ensure the consumers can have someone to support and provide them with some degree of objectivity around where they stand,” he said.
Mr Pope also challenged the assumption that greater choice was always a good thing.
“More choice can make it even more difficult for a person to reach a conclusion about what is best for them,” he said.
Closely monitor rollout of changes
The government should closely scrutinise the rollout of choice and control measures in home care and step in if systemic issues were identified, he said.
“The shift to increasing consumer control is a continual work in progress.
“If you get lulled into a false sense of security about this being revolutionary or such innovation, you are less inclined to apply a critical eye. It’s essential that everything is scrutinised.”