This would “bring a huge amount of money into the aged care system”, he said, allowing more federal funds to flow to those who were less financially secure. “The funding model for aged care is so broken that nearly half of [aged care] homes are operating at a loss and staff are chronically underpaid.”
Ian Yates, chief executive of COTA Australia, the national peak body for older Australians, said he supported “a more robust, equitable and sensible policy” for deciding who paid how much for aged care, noting that multiple inquiries and reviews had recommended charging wealthier people more.
Mr Garcia acknowledged the need to raise standards in the system, which the aged care royal commission described in its interim report as “sad and shocking” after hearing evidence of widespread abuse and neglect. “If we expect people to pay more, we have to deliver much better care,” he said.
It comes after the federal Health Department revealed it was yet to implement key recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2017 report on elder abuse. Responding to a question taken on notice at a Senate estimates hearing, Health Department bureaucrats this week said a “scoping study” was being done on a register of aged care workers, while “preparatory work” was under way on a serious incident response scheme for assaults in care.
Labor’s aged care spokeswoman, Julie Collins, said older Australians at risk of abuse deserved “immediate action, not years of inaction and delays”. Official data shows there were 5233 assaults in residential aged care facilities in 2018-19.
Catholic Health Australia outlined its proposed new means-testing rules in a pre-budget submission to the federal government.
Instead of forcing residents to sell their former homes, it said the government could slash the 5.25 per cent annual interest rate for its pension loan scheme, which allows people to take out loans against the value of their homes to pay for aged care.
“We need to find better ways of unlocking private wealth,” Mr Garcia said.
He said aged care residents who wanted to pay extra for premium offerings like food delivery services, extra classes such as painting or yoga or “watching the streaming service of their choice” should be allowed to do so.
The current rules restrict the daily fee that providers can charge each resident for living costs to $51.63, which is 85 per cent of the daily single pension. The submission called for caps on fees to be abolished, with daily fees of more than $100 to be approved by the aged care pricing commissioner.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.