Whether it’s help with cleaning the house, taking a shower, or giving you a lift to the supermarket to grab some groceries for dinner, thousands of elderly Australians rely on the government’s subsidised Home Support and Home Care Packages to help them stay independent in their own homes for longer.

However, in February 2017, reforms to the Home Care Packages system will come into effect. These reforms are an effort to make the system more streamlined, efficient and sustainable, says Arthur Koumoukelis, a law partner at Dentons (formerly Gadens Sydney) who specialises in the aged care industry.

“Right now, there are four levels of Home Care Packages and the government has limited the number of available places based on a ratio of the aged population reflecting the assessed needs in a particular area,” he explains.

“However, from February 2017, the government is going to look at the whole of Australia’s aged population and the people who are most in need (and apply) first and give the care to them first. It doesn’t change the number of packages available, but the method of allocation of those packages will fundamentally change.”

What this will mean for you or your aged parent
Right now, there are a certain defined number of Home Care Packages allocated to regions and cities around Australia. However, what happens if out of, say, 100 Packages allocated to an area of Sydney only 90 get used, but there’s a sick, elderly person in Melbourne needing care? Under the current system, if all of Melbourne’s Home Care Packages have been allocated, that sick person can’t tap into a one lying dormant in Sydney. That’s set to change, with Home Care Packages spread over the country and allocated according to need.

“It’s inefficient to have 10 places lying idle in Sydney when those 10 places could be filled by Melbourne residents needing care,” explains Koumoukelis. “So there will be a national waiting list.”

Choosing your own home care provider
Other changes have also opened up the system to enable more providers to provide care. “This will mean a lot more competition and more choice from the consumer’s point of view,” says Koumoukelis.

“You’ll essentially be able to have more say in who gives you the support and care you need. It also means the range of people who could provide the care increases as well.”

Your provider’s exit fees will also change
Care recipients receiving home care who co-contribute to their Home Care Package may end up with a surplus, and the provider currently keeps that surplus. “That might add up to $1000 or $2000 – and if you leave the Home Care service and go into permanent residential care, the approved provider holds it, but that is being changed,” says Koumoukelis.

“Instead of your money being given to an approved provider for the future provision of services, which will not be delivered, they have to repay it, but they can hold onto an exit fee that will be agreed with the provider.”

Diana and Ignatius discovered how home care improved their lives

With the new changes, the provider must tell you what the exit fee is and it must be published on their site. “Again, we’ll see more competition, enabling consumers to shop around,” adds Koumoukelis.

More of a ‘one stop shop’ service
The range of services will be expanded and there’ll be more flexibility, too. “With the reforms extending to the Commonwealth Home Support Packages in 2018, I think we’ll see a lot more innovation from people who can coordinate more services for you, beyond just domicillary support, transport, clinical care etc – even things like financial services support to help balance budgets,” says Koumoukelis.

“For many elderly people it becomes a case of, ‘it’s too hard, I’ll get someone to help me’ – with a whole range of things,” he adds. “And these changes are going to open up the market and provide a whole lot of people who can help. I predict there’ll be a whole raft of consultants available who can offer you a one-stop shop type of support, especially if you have the right kind of provider.”

Considering your options
While the changes will mean more flexibility and choice for consumers, people needing care should still consider their options carefully, says Koumoukelis – and not assume you’ll always get government support.

“To put that into context, a level 4 package – the highest level for someone living at home, so that person might be particularly frail or have dementia – gives you about $54,000 worth of Government support per annum, which equals around 22 – 25 hours a week of support if you apply it well. That’s three hours a day. What do you do for the other 21 hours? That comes from other support services. So it might be worth looking at other environments such as retirement villages where the support may be delivered in a more cost-effective manner.”

Do you or your parents receive help at home? Tell us your story here. 

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