The Health News – 30 April 2014

Overview

  • Providers of home care for older Australians say a growing funding crisis could see fewer veterans receive the services that help them stay in their own home.
  • Denison Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has warned the Federal Government is likely to clawback funding for the Royal Hobart Hospital, if the re-development is downsized.
  • The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) says there needs to be a proper discussion about services for older people before any budget cuts are made.


Health News

Veterans at risk of losing home care services due to funding crisis, care providers warn – By political reporter Naomi Woodley
Providers of home care for older Australians say a growing funding crisis could see fewer veterans receive the services that help them stay in their own home.

Like many seniors, veterans can get help with travel, home maintenance, and personal care if they make a co-payment of up to $5 per service, but the representative body for aged care providers is worried the program is increasingly unaffordable.

“It is an important part of their (military) service that they get these benefits,” Patrick Reid from Leading Age Services Australia said.

“The problem here is that they are grossly underfunded and take no account of the growing costs in the sector.”

The program costs the Federal Government up to $100 million per year, but the schedule of fees paid to homecare providers by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has not increased beyond inflation since 2006.

Mr Reid says a Fair Work Decision last year, which means casual staff have to be paid the same penalty rates as full-time and part-time staff, is putting immediate pressure on providers to meet the needs of veterans.

“It makes it very difficult for them to actually provide the full span across the seven days, particularly with penalty rates,” he said.

“It does mean that the margin is squeezed, the funding doesn’t pick up the entirety of services that are offered.

“In many cases our services providers are providing these services in arrears or are losing money on the service in order to keep the standard up for the veteran.”

No funding review planned: DVA

Mr Reid is also increasingly worried that the DVA is locking providers into extended contracts, which are based on current fees, until 2016.

“They themselves are doing a cost of care study, they know that the costs of care are higher than what they’re paying so, if they can roll it over for an extra 12 months there’ll be saving there for them,” Mr Reid said.

“What they’re neglecting to realise is that… it may mean that people won’t roll over their contracts, they won’t get picked up by anyone else because the funding is so low, and of course the disparity is growing.

Mr Reid says the current funding is not meeting the needs of providers or clients.

“In that case we may start seeing services drop away for veterans,” he said.

Veterans Affairs’ Minister Michael Ronaldson is at Gallipoli for Anzac Day services and was not available for interview.

But a spokesman for the department says it does not intend to change the fee structure for Veterans Home Care (VHC) services.

“There are no existing plans to review funding for Veterans Home Care services,” the statement said.

“DVA has contracts with 163 service providers nationally to ensure adequate provider coverage of VHC services across the nation. DVA is not aware of any veterans missing out on VHC services,” the statement said.

The department has confirmed all current providers have been offered contract extensions until the end of June 2016.

Leading Age Services Australia says they would support a higher level of co-payments from their home care clients, but only for those veterans who can afford to do so.

Wilkie warns of federal funding clawback if hospital revamp scaled down – no author listed

Denison Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has warned the Federal Government is likely to clawback funding for the Royal Hobart Hospital, if the re-development is downsized.

The Government has suspended preliminary works on the $580 million redevelopment, saying it is beset by cost blowouts and delays.

It is refusing to say whether the full project will proceed.

Yesterday, the Treasurer Peter Gutwein confirmed the financing of the proposal was being reviewed.

The Federal Government has contributed $290 million to the project.

Denison Independent Andrew Wilkie says downsizing the redevelopment is not an option.

“If the new Tasmanian Government stops the rebuild or significantly reduces the scope then Canberra would be well within its rights to ask for all or some of the money back,” he said.

Mr Wilkie says Tasmania desperately needs the hospital rebuild to go ahead but is urging the Government not to take too long.

“The review that the new government has done is entirely warranted.”

“I think the decision to delay any further work for now while the project plan is re-jigged makes sense, so long as that delay is not very long. I’m talking about weeks, not months.”

Deputy Opposition leader and former Health Minister, Michelle O’Byrne, is also worried.

“I’m extremely surprised about this decision and I’m very concerned it will attract penalties as part of the agreement.”

The State Government is not locked in to deliver the full re-development because the former government had not yet signed a key building contract.

Ms O’Byrne says she was very close.

“Frankly, I would have loved to be able to sign it earlier and politically it would have been great for me to sign a GCS prior to an election period or indeed last year,” she said.

“But I wasn’t prepared to sign one that didn’t give us the best outcome for Tasmania.

“We were very close to getting one that would give us the best outcome for Tasmania, now clearly we’re nowhere near it.”

The Premier, Will Hodgman, says the Government will detail what it plans to do soon.

“What we’re doing is the most prudent thing, after discovering what is an appalling mess left by Labor and the Greens,” he said.

“We are seeking appropriate high level advice; the Minister for Health Mr Ferguson is in the process of obtaining that as we speak and the government will make a sensible and appropriate decision in the near future about the way forward.”

The Medical Staff Association’s, Dr Frank Nicklason, says the uncertainty is taking a toll on staff.

“It is somewhat unsettling to have plans stopped and starting and changing and we’re very much hoping that a decision will be made fairly quickly so that we can proceed with those plans,” he said.

VCOSS airs federal budget fears – no author listed

The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) says there needs to be a proper discussion about services for older people before any budget cuts are made.

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey says there could be changes to some of the biggest spending areas including hospitals, aged care and the pension in the May budget.

VCOSS CEO Emma King says people in regional areas are more likely to have poorer health than people in metropolitan areas.

She says the Government is aware of the issues affecting older people.

“We’ve all looked at the data for years and known that our population is going to age, so it’s not like it’s suddenly some surprise,” she said.

“It concerns me that we’d then be having quite a rushed discussion about what the broader answers need to be.

“I think it would be very unfortunate to make some significant change to our system in the context of a couple of weeks.”

Ms King says if the May budget makes it more expensive to see GPs, people are more likely to develop more serious and costly health problems.

She says it is particularly important to keep funding for regional health initiatives.

“When we look at regional areas, we know the further people live from metropolitan Melbourne, the worse their health is likely to be,” she said.

“So we know in that case, it’s particularly important to look at preventative health.

“Some of the things that are being contemplated, such as the co-payments, etc, they’ll have a reverse effect. They’ll end up costing our society more in the long run.”