Home care packages too complex for many older Australians

Older Australians 'abandoned' and confused by home care system

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Older Australians find the home care package system too complex.

Older Australians find the home care package system too complex.

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Our elderly are 'often unable to access the necessary support to live happier, healthier lives at home'.

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HOME care packages are so complex they're a major barrier to older people accessing help.

Home care packages (HCPs) are meant to provide older Australians with assistance - cleaning, gardening, transport and nursing so they can stay comfortably in their own homes for longer.

But damning new research has found complexity and opacity in the system is a major barrier to many older people obtaining the support they need.

The report by independent not-for-profit think tank Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC) reveals 60 per cent of older people surveyed required assistance to identify and choose a HCP provider.

It found the the burden most commonly falls to already busy healthcare professionals (40 per cent) or family and friends (35 per cent).

The report draws on research undertaken in partnership with University of South Australia which surveyed 502 HCP recipients across metropolitan Australia in June and July last year.

"Older Australians are being abandoned by the system, often unable to access the necessary support to live happier, healthier lives at home," said CPRC chief executive Lauren Solomon.

'Broken system'

"What we have here is a system that has not been built for the people trying to access it. That burden is simply being shifted to family, friends and healthcare professionals as people try to navigate this bewildering and broken system," Ms Solomon said.

"For those older people without adequate family or healthcare support, it's unclear whether they would even be aware of the available home care package support, let alone be able to access the system."

The report, entitled Choosing Care: the difficulties of navigating home care, showed nearly a third of HCP recipients (32 per cent) didn't know what level of package funding they received and 36 per cent reported difficulties in understanding fees and charges.

It also outlined a concerning lack of transparency with 39 per cent of recipients reporting not receiving a care plan. The care plan outlines the assessed needs of the individual, states the services the individual will receive to meet those needs and who will provide those services and when. It's a key document to enable older people to hold providers to account for the services they deliver.

Eighty per cent of respondents reported wanting information about the quality of different providers, which is currently not available.

The report also said that information was provided in complex ways through channels older people do not use.

Only 6.8 per cent of respondents reported using information on the My Aged Care online portal, and only 5.8 per cent online more generally to find and compare information about HCPs.

Of those surveyed 44 per cent reported not being confident when using the internet, the primary channel for information on HCPs.

While lack of supply of HCPs is clearly a big problem highlighted by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (ACRC), Ms Solomon warned that pouring more packages into a broken system alone will not improve outcomes.

"We need to fix the way older people and their carers are accessing the system. It needs to be easier, fairer and a lot more transparent."

CPRC recommends the following changes:

  • Fees, prices and service information need to be standardised and simplified so that people can compare their home care options (88 per cent supported simpler, clearer information; 82 per cent supported fees and charges simplification)
  • Better support for healthcare professionals and carers, along with easier systems to connect older Australians with appropriate home care providers
  • More transparency on the quality of different providers (80 per cent wanted transparent information about the quality of different providers)

CPRC also agrees with the ACRC Interim Report that the My Aged Care website is not delivering the Productivity Commission's original vision of older people seemlessly navigating the aged care system supported by a person-centred navigator.

"We must design markets with people at the centre. Too often, older people and their experience of the market is just an afterthought." said Ms Solomon.

'Aged care lottery'

Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia Chief Executive, Ian Yates welcomed the report as further evidence supporting the need for stronger consumer rights in the delivery of aged care services in the homes of older Australians.

"What this tells us is that older Australians are sick of an aged care lottery where they are forced to choose a provider without the right information and chance determines the quality of the service they receive. This is simply not good enough.

"COTA's long standing calls to increase choice and control for older Australians receiving home care are more urgent than ever," said Mr Yates.

"People need access to simple, useful, comparable information about providers so they can make the best decisions about their care, especially when it comes to fees, charges and quality of service.

"Importantly, this study also proves that price is not always the most important consideration for consumers. Referral from trusted individuals like healthcare professionals, friends or family were much more important, as well as quality and reputation."

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