Home care becomes a buyer’s market

From this week, recipients of home-care packages will have a far greater say in the care they get and who they get it from, writes BINA BROWN*

CONSUMERS are used to shopping around for better deals with cars, interest rates and hotel rooms.

Under Increasing Choice in Home Care reforms, from February 27, if someone with a home-care package is unhappy with the service they are getting from a provider, they will easily be able to go elsewhere.
The reforms have opened up the home-care market to new providers as a way of offering greater choice for consumers who receive care packages valued between $11,693.65 and $52,545.40 a year, depending on a person’s care needs.
The changes mean funding for a home-care package will be allocated to consumers and follow the consumer, replacing the current system where home-care places are allocated to individual approved providers to deliver service in a particular location.

Under the reforms, the four levels and types of care and the required assessment to access home-care packages will remain the same, as will fees, supplements and the existing Consumer Directed Care model.
A search on myagedcare.gov.au shows Canberra currently has about 16 providers of level one and two packages and 20 providers of level three and four packages, with more expected to enter the system.

Peter Scutt, co-founder of bettercaring.com.au, an online marketplace that connects consumers directly with local, independent care and support workers, is particularly excited at the prospect of providers offering consumers new options, including the opportunity to self-direct their package.

“Under this option, not only can consumers take more control and choose which services they want and from who, but it typically includes lower administration fees and tiered case management. Consumers then don’t have to pay a lot for case management if they don’t need it, which leaves more of the package funds available to fund services,” says Scutt.

Council on the Ageing chairman Ian Yates is encouraging consumers to be forthright in negotiating with providers for what they believe is best for them and be prepared to shop around.
“If they currently have a home-care package with a provider, they will need to sign a new contract. If they are so inclined, they should ask friends or family about whether the package they are getting meets their needs, and if not, find a provider with the type of package that does,” says Yates.

He expects there to be some early movement between providers by consumers who are looking forward to the flexibility and choice but warns there could be traps.

One area of concern is the introduction of exit fees, which are designed to cover any administrative cost incurred by a package provider. These must be disclosed in the Home Care Agreement.

“There is no real issue if the fee is a basic sum of administration, but if it is of a size that it is a deterrent to someone who wants to change providers, then that is unconscionable,” he says.
Yates says he looks forward to the day similar reforms are rolled out in residential care, where individuals would hold the bed licence rather than the aged-care facility.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health says people approved for home care by the Aged Care Assessment Team from July 1, 2016, will automatically be placed on a new national queue for home-care packages.
Consumers who have an approval before July 1, 2016 will need to opt-in to the national queue by advising they are actively seeking care – via the government website myagedcare.gov.au or the contact centre on 1800 200422.

*Bina Brown is a director of aged-care solutions company Third Age Matters

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