By Martin Laverty and Gavin Abraham
Bipartisan support is emerging to improve access to aged care for older Australians living in poverty, according to the nation’s largest network of residential and community aged care providers.
As Anti-Poverty Week is marked across Australia, Catholic Health Australia (CHA) chief executive Martin Laverty said people often have an image of what poverty looks like. That image is rarely of people in retirement, but there are tens of thousands of older Australians who are struggling financially.
“A society’s commitment to justice and compassion should be judged by looking at how it treats the most vulnerable citizens,” Mr Laverty said. “When it comes to aged care, that group is those older Australians who don’t have the means to pay for their care or accommodation in their later years of life.
“The Productivity Commission has made recommendations that will deliver better access and choice in aged care to those not able to meet costs of care. We enthusiastically endorse those recommendations and it appears both the Government and Opposition are working steadily towards implementing elements of these recommendations, which in the years ahead will greatly improve the lives of financially disadvantaged older Australians.”
Among the recommendations made by the Commission are plans to make consumer contributions better reflect people’s capacity to pay, and for aged care service providers to make a proportion of their accommodation available to residents who are deemed to be financially disadvantaged.
An aligned recommendation is an increase in the subsidy for the approved basic standard of residential care accommodation to reflect the average cost of providing such accommodation within a region, so that providers of aged care can deliver services on a financially sustainable footing.
The Commission has proposed arrangements for any additional costs of providing aged care services to older people with special needs, such as the homeless, to be identified and appropriately funded. It has also recognised that its proposed reforms for consumer choice may have limited applicability for certain disadvantaged groups, and has instead proposed special funding arrangements such as block funding.
A proposed reform to give seniors greater flexibility in how to use the savings locked up in their principal residence without being forced to sell that property is another step towards making people more financially secure in their retirement.
Mr Laverty said CHA has previously expressed its support for the Productivity Commission’s aged care reform recommendations, which it says will greatly benefit older Australians and the country as a whole.
“CHA has been working alongside other aged care consumer and provider groups with the Government to develop programs that we hope to see announced in the 2012/13 Federal Budget next May. We’ve also been working with the Opposition, who have shown great support for the needs of older people. It may just be, despite the hung Parliament, that a rare moment of political unity delivers aged care reform on Budget night next May.
“Older Australians deserve to feel secure about their care over the final years of their life. So far, consumers, providers, Government and Opposition are all working towards this outcome.”