While pushing back the introduction of an integrated in-home care system is not ideal, it will give us an opportunity to work on putting in place a more effective home care system for all, writes Jeremy McAuliffe.
One of the major issues to come out of recent budget announcements has been the deferral of the planned 2018 merger of the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) and the Home Care Packages program. The merger is intended to provide increased clarity, stability and continuity of care for home care consumers, and the timeframe extension has several significant implications.
In an environment where we are trying to make things as straightforward as possible for consumers, operating two different programs essentially offering similar services is confusing. There are multiple service streams, duplications across both, and neither system is able to operate as efficiently or effectively as needed.
Consumers deserve a better continuum of care; one where they can move seamlessly between services as their needs change. The proposed merger of the two programs promises to deliver on that, but until it happens we are continuing to deny consumers full and effective choice.
The major challenges to integration are the structural differences between the two programs, particularly around funding and consumer fee arrangements. These often prove disincentives for CHSP consumers to take up home care packages.
But until one integrated service system is in play, we will continue to make inefficient use of funding and lose the opportunity to place consumers at a point in the system that is most aligned to their level of need.
As a consequence of the delay, the government has promised to extend CHSP funding arrangements. While this provides some short-term security for consumers and providers, it doesn’t do anything to address the ongoing and critical shortfall of service provision.
The deferral does present government however with an important opportunity to bring stability to an environment that has seen significant change since the introduction of the My Aged Care system, consumer directed care and this year’s move to allocate packages to consumers from February.
We have seen a range of issues present themselves which indicate that there is room for improvement with aspects of the current system. Feedback from providers and consumers suggests that the My Aged Care referral system and prioritisation process, and the Medicare claim and payment system, are yet to operate at optimal functionality and effectiveness. Indeed, it is promising that government has recognised the impacts of inadequate resourcing by allocating $3.1 million to support My Aged Care operations.
The extension further gives government the opportunity to progress development of a single set of quality standards and to apply outcomes from its current investigations and consultations around wellness and reablement to the development of the integrated program.
The deferral also offers more time to address inconsistencies within current assessment structures. A cohesive, independent and high-functioning integrated assessment service is essential to the future of aged care. We need a system that is fully constructed within the My Aged Care context to ensure current assessment and referral delays are addressed, and that consumers have timely and appropriate access to the services they need.
While the deferral is not ideal, it does give us the opportunity to resolve some of the current issues impacting home care. This is our chance to get it right and ensure we are delivering high quality and responsive home care which best meets the needs of older Australians, well into the future.
Jeremy McAuliffe is general manager home care at Benetas.