Last year, more than 1.3 million Australians received aged care; about 82 per cent of those people received aged care at home. Many people find this statistic shocking, because the words “aged care” are often linked to “nursing home” in their heads.
In 2017, the number of Home Care Packages available will increase by nearly 30,000. The government is also making big changes to the funding arrangements for packages and to how people access a package. These changes create much-needed competition and transparency in the home care marketplace.
The changes that will come into effect on February 27, 2017 will mean that Home Care Package funding (which ranges from around $22 a day to $177 a day) will belong to the care recipient not to the care provider. Home Care Packages currently assigned to care providers that are not in use on February 26 this year will be reclaimed and form part of the national inventory, in addition to the 30,000 new packages.
People will be able to shop around to compare and choose their preferred provider, and to change providers at any time. This new flexibility will also enable consumers to relocate and have their care package move with them, which is a big improvement on the current situation. Moving frequently may be expensive though – providers can charge exit fees, as long as they are disclosed in advance.
The government will prioritise access to packages based on a person’s needs and circumstances through My Aged Care. Once you have been assigned a package, you will have 56 days to enter into a Home Care Agreement.
Eligibility for a Home Care Package will be determined by the Aged Care Assessment Team, just as it is now. This assessment can be carried out in your home or at the ACAT offices (which are normally part of a hospital). The assessment itself is free and simple but there can be a long wait – so it’s a good idea to get in as soon as the need arises.
The amount people pay for a Home Care Package, including the means testing arrangements, is not changing. Full pensioners can only be charged the basic daily fee, currently $9.97 per day. People with higher levels of income need to pay an income-tested care fee in addition to the basic daily fee. The income-tested care fee is assessed by Centrelink based on their income test, with the care fee calculated at 50c per dollar of income above the thresholds (approximately $26,000/year for a single and $20,000 for each member of a couple). The fee is capped at $5208/year for part-pensioners and $10,416/year for self-funded retirees, and there is a lifetime cap of $62,499.
While they are called Home Care Packages, the fact is that these services are delivered into suburban houses, caravan parks, retirement communities, granny flats and many other living arrangements – basically anywhere someone calls home. Deciding where to call home when the need for care arises can be a difficult decision. The latest edition of Aged Care, Who Cares?, which I have co-authored with aged care expert Rachel Lane, helps people to understand all of the options when it comes to accommodation, including granny flats, retirement communities and aged care facilities, the care services available, the legal tips and traps to be aware of and some strategies for making it more affordable.
With the overwhelming majority of people choosing to receive care at home, the million-dollar question is “Where is home?”