Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 2) Bill 2020
I'm happy to support the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 2) Bill 2020, like the No. 1 bill before it. This bill came about following questions I asked in a number of past Senate estimates about the handling of unspent home-care funds once someone passes away or goes into residential care. When I first raised this issue, it turned out the department had very little oversight of these funds. There was absolutely no auditing. The department pretty much relied on an honour system to ensure that these funds were paid back to the Commonwealth. According to the latest report from the Aged Care Financing Authority, the amount of unspent funds held by providers soared by 40 per cent to $751 million last financial year, and it was predicted to top $1 billion by June this year. This is a huge amount of money needlessly paid out and sitting in others' bank accounts.
This bill changes the administrative arrangements for paying home-care subsidy to approved providers of home care. Home-care providers will only be paid for the care and services delivered to a home-care recipient during each month, with Services Australia retaining any unspent subsidy the home-care recipient is eligible to receive each month. The bill will also introduce a mechanism whereby providers who elect to return unspent funds that are held by them start to do so within six months of the bill coming into effect. The efficiencies and better transparency created by this bill and the earlier legislation already passed will mean much less waste, which must translate to more aged-care packages.
At the moment there is a massive shortfall in packages, especially for the most acute level of assistance. This is despite an announcement of 23,000 additional places in the budget over the next year, on top of the 6,105 places announced last July and an additional 10,000 places that were recently announced in the MYEFO. Whilst the 39,000 places are very much welcome, there are still more than 60,000 senior Australians needing care and assistance who are on the waitlist for a home-care package—more than 60,000. The drip-feed of packages must stop and it must be replaced with a comprehensive plan to deal with the waitlist and provide places for packages that people actually are approved for.
Figures released by the Department of Health in September showed that, in the last two years, 28,000 people died whilst on the waitlist. This is absolutely appalling. The consequences of the long waitlist for home care are traumatic and often come with dire outcomes. Many elderly Australians wait up to two years for their home-care package following assessment. Often, by this time, their condition has deteriorated and, in many cases, families can no longer care for them or they can no longer care for themselves. Often they're forced to go into residential care. Every year a staggering 19,000 people who were approved for home care are forced into residential aged care before they receive a package.
Our senior Australians should have the right to receive care and assistance in their own homes if that is their preference. Our senior Australians deserve respectful, affordable, accessible and safe aged-care options that are offered in a timely manner. So, whilst I support this bill and the efforts by government to more efficiently allocate the limited funding available to home-care providers for our senior Australians, much more needs to be done to fix the home-care system. Prime Minister Morrison recently said, 'The health and wellbeing of older Australians is an absolute priority.' I agree, and all of us here should hold him to those words when the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety hands down its final report next month.