The Federal Government’s second Budget was announced last night by Treasurer Jim Chalmers and contains some expected and some unexpected changes for Australia’s health and aged care industry.
Already stirring debate about what should and shouldn’t have been funded, here is our breakdown of what the 2023-2024 Federal Budget has in store for vulnerable older Australians and front-line health and aged care workers.
Almost $28 billion has been allocated to the health and aged care sector, with almost $12 billion allocated to fund the 15% pay rise for aged care workers, to roll out a new regulatory model and to embed new aged care assessment arrangements.
The Government has also announced it will exempt international students working in aged care from the working hours limit for six months until December 31 2023, quashing concerns from aged care providers that the limitations would further impact the sector.
In order to help attract and retain workers, the Government will fund the Fair Work Commission’s suggestion for a 15% interim pay increase – the largest ever pay increase for aged care workers.
The Government will also invest $59.5 million over five years in a National Worker Registration Scheme, a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality of Safety to help screen aged care workers and hold them accountable for misconduct.
The Budget also outlines that the daily rate for aged care residents will rise by 17%, per resident, per day through the Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN-ACC) to ensure older people are receiving the best care they can while living in a facility.
In a similar vein, aged care residents will receive more regular visits, health assessments and care planning as GPs and primary care clinics are paid incentives under MyMedicare thanks to $112 million of Government funding. This incentive triples for GPs in rural and remote areas in order to maintain access to health services for older people in these communities.
A new single assessment system was also announced in the Budget to simplify and improve access to in-home and residential aged care services.
Compliance regulations will also be strengthened under this Budget with almost $60 million being put into greater transparency for the aged care Star Rating system and almost $140 million into the Quality Indicator program.
A dedicated Food, Nutrition and Dining Advisory Support Unit will also be funded in this Budget to improve the quality of food and nutrition in aged care, including a food complaints hotline staffed by dietitians.
The new Support at Home care program has been pushed back to be rolled out July 1, 2025, in order for the Government to further refine its design.
A new Aged Care Taskforce will be established to review aged care funding arrangements and develop options to make the system fair and equitable for all Australians but it will also inform the final design of the Support at Home program. This could allow room for the Government to implement a co-payment system for wealthier older Australians to contribute more to their aged care.
Existing grant arrangements for the Commonwealth Home Support Programme will also be extended for a further 12 months to 30 June 2025.
In order to make up for the postponement, an additional 9500 Home Care Packages (HCPs) will be added to adhere to older people’s preference to stay supported living at home.
The Government has committed a $3.5 billion investment to encourage General Practitioners (GPs) to restore bulk billing for pensioners and Commonwealth concession card holders to help ease cost-of-living pressures and help older people seek treatment for chronic and complex health conditions.
Both GPs and Nurse Practitioners will be able to prescribe the approved PBS medications to older people, making prescriptions more accessible.
As well as more affordable healthcare, older Australians will benefit from cheaper medicines on the PBS for conditions like heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.
The Budget also detailed that older patients with complex, chronic disease who go to hospital 10 or more times each year will be supported by extensive team-based and tailored care they need without needing to go to a hospital under MyMedicare.
Those with chronic wounds and diabetes will also have access to more affordable wound care.
The Disability Support for Older Australians program will be extended and made ongoing with $487 million in funding over four years. Older people with disabilities will benefit from the services they can receive at home and in their communities.
Finally, $2.5 million is being invested into the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia (FECCA), to establish the Australian Multicultural Health Collaborative. This will strengthen their capacity to advocate and contribute to the voices of culturally and linguistically diverse older Australians in healthcare.
Older people in rural and regional areas who are registered with their healthcare provider through MyMedicare will be able to receive longer Medicare-rebated phone consultations. This includes consultations longer than 20 minutes for GPs and longer than 25 minutes for Other Medical Practitioners (OMP).
For nurses in these areas, more scholarships, altered scholarship arrangements and training will be on offer to help grow the workforce in these communities. This includes: