If we want to get serious about actually fixing our broken aged care system, we’ll need to start by confronting some hard truths. So here’s one: the aged care funding crisis is now so deep the government can’t realistically fix it with taxpayers’ money.
To understand what I mean, take a quick look down the abyss.
Let’s start with the soaring need for home-care packages. These packages are designed to help seniors who want to stay in their own homes, but need some assistance to get by.
They might have mobility issues or they might be looking after a spouse with, say, dementia.
The waiting list for home-care packages now has 120,000 names on it. As the aged care royal commission noted, many seniors are now dying in discomfort well before they win the lottery for a package.
The Government, recognising the problem, last month announced a fresh $500 million for home-care packages enough to provide an extra 10,000 places. A welcome step, but not nearly enough.
To actually clear the list would cost several billion dollars, and that would just be to deal with the backlog. Demand would continue to rise sharply from then on as the population ages.
Meanwhile, the model we use to fund our aged care facilities is so broken that half the country’s homes are now operating at a loss, despite the unsustainably low wages of staff. In rural and remote areas, that figure rises to almost three quarters. A recent survey of aged care providers indicates 15 per cent of facilities will close in 2020.
So while the federal Government absolutely needs to make urgent funding injections just to keep the system ticking over, we also have to be realistic and recognise there’s no way taxpayers can be relied upon to fund aged care at the levels required to meet rising community expectations.
We need to find better ways of unlocking some of the resources older Australians have accumulated over their lives, to better ensure they are happy and comfortable in their final years. So what is needed from Government is significant structural reform – a process that will be difficult and contentious.
Stock image. Models are posed. Source: iStock, Fred Froese.