NOW let's get this straight: just because something the government funds is put out to tender doesn't mean it is being privatised. Right?
That's the message embattled federal Aged Care Minister Colbeck has been trumpeting since the proverbial hit the fan as we heralded in 2020.
The government intends to press on with its plan to merge the teams responsible for assessing people for aged care services - Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACAT) and Regional Assessment Services (RAS). In doing so, it will call for tenders for an amalgamated service "to create a more streamlined service".
But what really stirred the pot were reports the minister had said the Aged Care Royal Commission's Interim Report supported the government's decision to privatise assessment teams. Privatise? There's that word again.
Commission chair Tony Pagone saw fit to issue a statement making it clear the report did not endorse the government's stated position. It had, in fact, noted "that we would monitor with interest the implementation" the government had announced.
Mr Pagone stressed that the work of the royal commissioners is independent of government, saying the commission had not yet made recommendations about how to best achieve an integration of the two services.
Severe finger wagging in the minister's direction. Labor's aged care spokeswoman labelled it a "slap down".
Mr Colbeck quickly responded, refuting claims the government intends to privatise the assessment process, saying it was "completely cognisant" of the views expressed in the royal commission's interim report and that it respected the commission's independence.
He said the intention to undertake a tender had been public for more than a year, with state and territory officials consulted "on a number of occasions", adding that states and territories would be able to tender for the amalgamated service.
Already some state health ministers have questioned the government's "rush" to amalgamate the services before the royal commission delivers its final report.
Clearly there is merit in merging the ACAT and RAS assessment services into one.
The concern is that, despite what minister Colbeck says, the services do end up privatised - out of state government hands and into the private sector.
Could it be that organisations which provide aged care services could also end up providing the assessment services? It's something that industry body Leading Age Services Australia has considered.
In a report prepared in response to the streamlined consumer assessment proposal last February, the organisation noted that "a clear demarcation between providers of aged care services and providers of assessment services should be put in place".
"Most LASA members are of the view that the delivery of assessment services by care providers constitutes a conflict of interest," the report said.
It's a point not overlooked by the government, with Mr Colbeck saying any tender arrangements would "include measures to ensure that conflicts of interest are managed".
Not properly managed, this could prove a deadly thorn in the government's side as we move into a new era of aged care delivery.
Meanwhile, the Doctors Reform Society has warned that a privatised ACAT system "will be a race to the bottom".
"Its (the government's) own Royal Commission into Aged Care is deeply concerned about the appropriateness of market forces to deliver care to those needing aged care," said society president Tim Woodruff.
He said nothing in the commission's interim report suggested privatisation as a way forward. "Indeed, the report has clear concerns about 'the market'."
Dr Woodruff said there were concerns that "poorly trained assessors will inadequately assess complex patient needs as they gouge government fees for their private owners and force the dedicated assessors out of the system because they will not be profitable".
So just when we thought 2020 could be the year aged care might drop from headlines, it seems we could be in for another roller coaster ride.