People seeking help navigating the aged care system may be receiving biased advice from aged care placement services as providers offer kickbacks for successfully placing a new resident in their home.
Aged care placement professionals are not regulated and there is no requirement for them to declare if they are receiving payment for successful placements, says Paul Dwyer, a mortgage adviser with Reverse Mortgage Finance Solutions.
“It’s one of the biggest problems we have,” he said.
Placement services are often provided by social workers, nurses, or people with extensive knowledge of the aged care system who are “well placed” to provide consumers with advice about navigating the highly complex aged care system, Mr Dwyer said.
But over the last three or four years, aged care providers have begun offering fees to these placement professionals for successful placements, meaning consumers may receive biased advice.
Kickbacks allow placement professionals to offer their services for free, a powerful marketing tool, but not necessarily one that delivers the best outcome for consumers.
Placement professionals may be recommending providers offering the highest incentive payments, not the facility most suitable for their client.
In their most recent recommendations to the The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality commissioners, counsels assisting have recommended more placement professionals, or ‘care finders’, be introduced in Australia to help consumers navigate the hugely complex aged care system.
The idea was first broached at the 4 March Adelaide hearings, when counsels assisting outlined their proposal for care finders.
Though broadly in support of the proposal, a submission from Opal Aged Care in response set out their concerns about care finders.
Opal acknowledged the royal commission’s suggestion that “ideally there would be no need for a care finder in a simplified system”, but it agreed it wasn’t “realistic” given the “potential vulnerabilities” of those who need aged care services.
But the Opal submission said a “key plank” of any proposal to employ more care finders must be to ensure “care finders as individuals and as organisations do not have any conflicts of interest.” (Their emphasis.)
Opal said care finders sometimes charge the consumer a fee and the provider a fee, or sometimes they are recruited by the hospital and also receive a fee from the provider.
They believe care finders should be employed by the government, as is the case in the United Kingdom.
“The current proposal envisages that care finders cannot be employees of providers, with which we agree, but for the care finder’s role not to be compromised, it must be an Australian government employee and cannot be earning any income (commission) from the provider,” Opal stated.
Counsel assisting’s most recent, and final, recommendations to the commissioners included the recommendation that from 1 July 2023, the proposed new ‘Australian Aged Care Commission’ should “engage, support and fund” care finders to provide local, face-to-face help for people seeking or receiving aged care services.
Counsel assisting recommended that care finders be government employees or “demonstrate aptitude for a highly trusted role” in helping older people and their loved ones through the aged care system.
Mr Dwyer said it was “disappointing” the government doesn’t appear to have an appetite for placement services, but better regulation of the service could ameliorate conflict-of-interest issues.
Just how the commissioners would determine “aptitude for a highly trusted role” remains to be seen – but reform must contain integrity measures that eliminate any possibility for conflicts of interest for care finders.
Mr Dwyer recommends families looking for help navigating the aged care system for a loved one should always ask placement service professionals, or care finders, about any commissions they are in line to receive from recommending a particular aged care provider.
“We need a far better way of disclosing independence,” said Mr Dwyer.
And don’t be tempted by a care finder who offers their services for free. Their free advice might only be worth the amount they are charging.
Paying a care finder a fee may, in fact, mean you are receiving more tailored, impartial and useful advice about the most suitable aged care home for your loved one.
Image: Rostislav Sedlacek, iStock.