The minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, has written to home care providers to remind them of their responsibilities under new systems that require them to provide information about their prices. They will also be required to add a link to their pricing schedules on the portal’s Home Care Package Service Finder.

A common complaint from people looking for home care is that it’s difficult to compare different providers, especially in terms of price and quality. Many operators do not clearly explain the true costs of accessing their services, for example, administration and exit fees are sometimes added to costs, and are charged at the provider’s discretion.

The Minister told HelloCare, “I acknowledge concerns over the high level of home care package administrative charges. I have requested that aged care peak organisations and other industry groups work with the Department of Health on a home care pricing transparency system, for publication on the My Aged Care portal from early 2019.”

Putting systems in place to give consumers better information

The government has also revealed it will spend nearly $9 million developing a system that will allow comparisons of the performance ratings of residential aged care service providers.

From July 2020, performance ratings for residential service providers will be published on the My Aged Care website,  along with a tool that will enable the comparison of providers. Plain English accreditation reports will be published with the existing Consumer Experience Reports.

The government will also put in place new processes to handle complaints in the residential care system. A single Charter of Rights will be introduced to encourage care providers to discuss care-related incidents with residents and their families. Providers who obstruct discussions of complaints could be publicly identified, under the new policies.

“Consumers looking for easier to understand information”

Matthew Richter, CEO of the Aged Care Guild told HelloCare, “There is a bipartisan commitment to move towards a model of aged care that puts greater power and choice in the hands of consumers. The Guild and its members have been supportive of this process, and if correctly implemented pricing comparison tables have an important and productive role to play.

“The Guild has always taken a proactive approach when it comes to transparency, which is why we aggregate and publish Consumer Experience Reports on our website. Our goal is full and genuine consumer choice when it comes to the aged care decision, and we hope pricing comparison can become a valuable part of that.”

ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow told HelloCare that consumers want more accessible information about providers.

“Choosing a service provider is a big decision for an older person and their family. Consumer groups have been advising that consumers are looking for easier to understand and compare information.

“Done in the right way, transparency will support providers to put their best foot forward and support consumers to get the information they need to make decisions,” she said.

But Sparrow cautioned that the new government systems should not be so onerous that they make providers inflexible in offering the services consumers want.

“Aged care providers want to be responsive to the needs of the people they provide services and support to. In doing so though it is also important to ensure that providers are able to shape and price their services to offer choice and variety for older Australians without an overly prescriptive approach to regulation. Providers don’t want cookie cutter approaches and feel sure that neither do consumers.

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney told HelloCare he agreed that greater transparency is required. “Clear information on costs and fees in aged care is important so that consumers can make choices, especially in cases where there is increasing application of consumer directed care (e.g. home care).

But Mr Rooney cautioned that the elderly and their families couldn’t make decisions about aged care relying on information about costs alone.

“Price comparison tables etc. such as for home care fees, can be useful but provider offerings can vary and so they need to be able to cover innovation and differences in offerings. Further, an overemphasis on costs can lead consumers to forget about the importance of quality. LASA expects that with a maturing home care market, new comparison tools will emerge that may mitigate the need for the Government mandating approaches to support fee transparency and comparability.”

Mr Rooney said details about both government subsidies and consumer contributions and both should be transparent so consumers understand who is paying for the aged care services they receive.

“One of the key pieces of information that is missing in the current landscape of aged care service delivery is a clear understanding of the actual costs of care,” he said.

Government funding does not reflect true cost of care: LASA

“Aged care sector funding is at a critical point and Government funding in many cases is not aligned with the true costs of care. This can be compounded by the increasing frailty of many residents in residential aged care.

Mr Rooney said there is growing financial pressure on aged care operators.

“The number of residential aged care providers recording financial losses is growing. March quarter 2018 data from StewartBrown indicates 43 per cent of residential aged care facilities recorded a loss, up from 41 per cent in the December quarter and up from 31 per cent in 2015-16. The March quarter 2018 result is 58 per cent for outer regional, remote and very remote facilities. Additionally, the home package national queue has over 100,000 older Australians assessed as requiring services, whilst Stewart Brown reports growing financial pressures on home care providers.

“Sustainable funding is needed to ensure care and services are available for the growing number of older Australians relying on aged services now and in decades to come.

“While the recent Federal Budget included positive measures such as an additional 14,000 home care places, and additional support for palliative care and mental health for people living in residential care, core funding is still the largest issue the sector faces.”

LASA is calling on the Productivity Commission for a study of the true cost of providing aged care in Australia.

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