The 2021 federal budget is a missed opportunity for badly needed aged care reform, writes Jason Waller.

Jason Waller

With the budget allocation in response to the aged care royal commission in mind, it’s clear that the Australian government has finally found assistive technology to be a critical way to secure the future of our elderly Australians.

Despite this, however, I fear that long waiting lists for these additional 80,000 home care packages, a lack of access to service providers in regional and remote areas, and money – even $10 billion – is still not useful, when there are roadblocks to implementation.

What is clear from the royal commission’s final report is that without real structural changes and more access to assistive technology for remote and regional areas, we will unfortunately continue to see more of the same – an aged care system that is beyond its capacity.

Need to make AI available

The Federal Budget is an opportunity for the government to refresh the system and put the customer first.

But it has stopped short of delivering what is desperately needed according to the aged care royal commission.

Artificial intelligence and the internet-of-things has come an enormous distance in recent years; and assistive technology based on this can now be the difference between keeping a person in their home or having to enter residential aged care earlier than they need to.

It needs to be able to be accessed by people all over Australia, not just those residing in urban areas.

Without this, I’m afraid the aged care system will remain in its current state; a declining, stressed institution that lacks structural staff.

People in regional areas are often forced to leave their homes and communities and go into residential care, simply because of a lack of in-home support.

Inequities

It’s unfair that regional Australians who can and want to live independently at home don’t have the same options as their counterparts in the cities because those services don’t exist there.

Currently, the service providers can be a constraint and a bottleneck because they are simply too overwhelmed, particularly post-COVID.

The government should be providing more ways and means to easily implement assistive technology to those who need it.

Need to increase CHSP funding

And then comes the subject of home care packages.

While we’re applauding the idea that people accessing these should automatically be approved to also access assistive technology and home modification services in addition to their home care package, the government should have gone further. There needs to be an immediate increase in CHSP funding for the benefit to actually have an impact.

The current funding amount is $500, and this needs to be raised to $2000. The government also should have included ways and means to provide mechanisms for technology to be funded upstream of the new aged care system at the GP level; and while Medicare is one route, I believe the sector needs a separate dedicated technology funding stream.

It also needs to be accessible not just by individuals, but ancillary healthcare workers too. This isn’t about creating additional budget; it’s about saving money downstream. It’s about taking the pressure often already overstressed age care system by adopting the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

This is a real opportunity to genuinely improve the health outcomes of older Australians, upskill the workforce and prevent unnecessary hospitalisation as well as address fundamental problems around connectedness and loneliness.

It’s a chance to give families and seniors the ability to take their care into their own hands, rather than rely on the current system.

It is also key to acknowledging and addressing the increased desire by older Australians to have more choice and control over their lives and for aged care organisations to deliver that with current workforce headwinds.

Technology could be a real solution for the government to address the worsening budget challenges facing aged care, the home care waiting list queue and productivity benefits specific to the aged care workforce.

Unfortunately, the federal government did not successfully address the need for quality care in remote areas, but we’re hoping this changes in the very near future.

Jason Waller is the CEO and Managing Director of InteliCare.

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