For carers and their families there was much to be pleased about with the 2012-13 Federal Budget.
In particular the budget contained a commitment to the first stage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a major reform of Australia’s system of aged care (Living Longer Living Better) and the implementation of a national E-health system, the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR).
The Federal Budget included $1 billion for the first stage of the NDIS roll-out over the next 4 years. In practical terms this means the establishment of up to four ‘launch’ sites across Australia.
These launch sites are expected to benefit 10,000 people with significant and permanent disabilities in 2013-14, and 20,000 people in 2014-15.
The initial funding for this first stage of the NDIS is strongly welcomed as is the promise it holds for a national system of much improved individualised care and support for Australians with a significant and permanent disability. For this potentially fundamental reform to become a reality however, a huge amount of work and funding will be required. It is estimated that over 400,000 people will eventually be covered by the scheme involving additional costs in the order of $6.5billion annually.
The Government’s Living Longer, Living Better aged care package is a major and welcome reform. The overall cost of the package was $3.7 billion over 5 years though most of this was offset by redirected aged care funding and increased care fee revenue. Included in the package was a substantial expansion in the number of home care packages for older Australians, additional assistance for people with dementia, greater choice and control for older people and their families with regard to care and increased funding for carer respite and counselling.
In a number of areas Living Longer Living Better fell short of the recommendations made in the Productivity Commission’s recent report Caring for Older Australians. The package did not introduce a needs-based system of care entitlements for either older Australians or their carers, nor was the system for improving consumer and carer information and access – the so called Gateway – fully developed. In particular, systems of assessment, for older people and their carers remain undeveloped and there is some uncertainty about the extent to which the Gateway will have a significant regional and local presence.
One of the Government’s main goals in aged care is to enable people to remain at home. This is what most older Australians and their families want. It also implies that family carers will play an absolutely critical role in the evolving new aged care system. With the number of carers relative to older people projected to decrease over the coming decades, increased carer supports and services will be required to make this goal a reality. In particular, more needs to be done to enable people to combine caring with paid employment.
The PCEHR system, offering improved continuity of care, quicker, more informed and accurate diagnosis, and a more efficient health system, has been allocated $233 million over 3 years. Australians have the option of registering for a PCEHR, with the system commencing on 1 July 2012. The system has potentially many benefits for carers and the people they support.
In welcoming these budget announcements, Carers Australia President Tim Moore said that, ‘for too long, carers have held together failing aged care and disability systems at great physical, emotional and financial cost. The Australian Government is now beginning to recognise the needs of carers as well as the needs of those they care for in the implementation of these much needed reforms.’
Mr Moore concluded, ‘in aged care and disability reform there is a need for significant consultation over policy detail and implementation. Carers Australia is particularly interested in ensuring that carers and their families are fully involved in these processes.’
A more comprehensive critique and analysis of the Federal Budget from a carer perspective can be found here.