When loved ones become frail and elderly, families may feel that moving them into a retirement home is their only option. But that’s no longer the case. Recent changes to home care provision funding now give older people more choice and control over the type of assistance they can receive if they want to keep living at home.

As of February 28, you can stipulate the type of service you want and choose a care provider who is sympathetic and culturally appropriate for your lifestyle. It’s your choice. This consumer directed approach is aimed at allowing people to age well in their own home.

The types of services include the regular things such as help getting dressed, meal preparation and transport to hospital appointments. In addition, you can now use the funds to pay for outings to cultural groups or even visits to the golf club.

Qualifying for help

To qualify for at-home care, you need to have an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) assessment. There are four levels of assistance: basic care needs, low level care needs, intermediate care needs, and high level care needs. The amount of government subsidy you receive depends on the level at which you have been assessed. The higher the care needed, the higher the subsidy.

In the past, the services offered were not as flexible. Under the new system, you have much more freedom to fine tune the services you receive and control your aged care package.

Central waiting list

The new legislation also means that the waiting list system has changed. Now, once you have received your ACAT assessment, you go directly onto a central waiting list.i Your place on the list will depend on your immediate needs and circumstances as well as the time you have been waiting for care. Once you reach the front of the queue you will be assigned a home care package that you can use to receive care from a provider of your choice.

It’s a good idea to use your time on the waiting list to investigate what provider is best for you, both geographically and in terms of the services they can deliver.

My Aged Care will help you choose a suitable provider but you can also check out the possibilities by visiting the My Aged Care website. On the website, you will see the providers available in your area and their specialities in terms of culture, religion and language.

Additional contributions

It may be that you have to contribute to the cost of your care as the subsidy is means tested. The threshold for additional contributions is an income $25,792 a year for those who are single.

If you already receive subsidised care, you will automatically be assigned a home care package under the new regime. And if you had been receiving a lower level of care than your ACAT assessment, then you will automatically move up to your correct level.

Switch providers

If for some reason you have been unhappy with your current service provider, then you can now switch providers. The funds that have been allocated to you to pay for your services will move with you. But be aware that there may be exit fees associated with switching from one provider to another. It’s expected that the ability to switch will deliver a higher standard of service as providers compete to get your business.

Any unspent funds must be rolled over from month to month and year to year for as long as you remain in the package. When you die or enter a nursing home, these unspent funds will be returned to you or your estate.

While the old system had some choice insofar as you could discuss what your needs were, the new rules are much more flexible. They also offer families the peace of mind that comes from knowing your loved ones can continue to live well in familiar surroundings.

i Increasing choices in home care Questions and Answers, 20 May 2016, p10, https://agedcare.health.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1426/f/documents/05_2016/increasing_choice_in_home_care_-_qas_-_20_may_2016.pdf

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