Planned reforms to the way home care providers receive subsidies have been put on ice while the government deals with the COVID-19 crisis.
Aged care minister Richard Colbeck announced on March 27 that the implementation of the so-called home care payment alignment project will be postponed as the government deals with the “unprecedented health emergency”.
It’s one of a number of aged care initiatives, including some affecting residential care, put on a six hiatus hold during the pandemic response.
“The implementation of improvements to payment administration arrangements for home care packages to align with other government programs, such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, will be placed on hold,” the minister said.
Tackling unspent funds
More than 900 home care providers were set to receive their final payment in advance in May ahead of the introduction of the changes to the payment system, which were designed to slow the accumulation of unspent funds.
The changes would have seen providers paid in arrears instead of receiving a monthly payment in advance, and eventually only being able to claim for services delivered rather than getting a lump sum.
The government flagged the changes in last year’s budget saying the new model would align home care with other government funded programs where providers are only paid for services once they have been delivered, like the NDIS.
The transition to payment in arrears was set to come in from June. Commencement of the second phase of the reforms – the payment-for-services-delivered model – was yet to be determined.
Senator Colbeck said he would consult with the home care sector would help determine when the new payment system would recommence.
“In the meantime, the current advance and claim payment cycle with Services Australia will continue,” he said.
Thumbs up from providers
While the reforms had been green lighted by the Aged Care Financing Authority and broadly supported by providers, peak industry organisations had expressed concern that they were being rushed through and would create cash flow problems for already stretched providers.
On Tuesday the peaks welcomed the announcement saying it would give providers a chance to focus on the health their clients.
ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow said proceeding with the changes at this time would have meant unnecessary and unwanted administrative change at a time when attention needed to be focused elsewhere.
“We’re really appreciative of the fact that the government understands that providers now need to be 100 per cent focused on protecting residents and clients and making sure people are getting the services that they need,” she told Community Care Review.
“So these kind of changes going on hold is a really welcome step they’re taking to help providers focus on what they need to focus on at this point.
“For providers who might have had some financial difficulty as a result, that’s now avoided meaning money can be spent supporting people at home.”
LASA CEO Sean Rooney welcome the Minister’s commitment to consult with the home care sector about when implementation of the changes will recommence.
“At this time of greatly increased health risk to our elders, it is critical that care providers and their dedicated staff can be totally focused on the protection of older Australians receiving care,” he told Community Care Review.