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Industry leaders fear audit’s impact

The Commission of Audit’s (CoA) recent report highlights a series of recommendations that have garnered mixed reaction from the industry.

Healthcare and aged-care reform were two key areas of focus in the report. Acknowledging the current health system is not well equipped to face future challenges, including an ageing population and rising health services costs, the report highlights nine short- to medium-term healthcare reforms.

Amongst these is the introduction of co-payments for all Medicare-funded services. General patients would pay $15 per service for their first 15 visits or service a year, and $7.50 per service after that. Concession care holders would be charged $5.00 each for the first 15 visits and $2.50 beyond that threshold.

In addition, the commission has suggested requiring higher-income earners to take out private health insurance for basic health services, in place of Medicare.

COTA Australia CEO Ian Yates said if the recommendations were adopted, many older people would be badly out of pocket, or they would not go to their GP to have their issues diagnosed.

“Putting barriers in the way of people looking after their health at the cheaper end of the health system – a visit to the GP or getting the medicine they need – will only end up putting more pressure on the system at the more expensive end,  surgery and hospital admissions,” he said.

“In addition, locking higher income earners out of Medicare and charging others high co-payments even for emergency care sets Australia up for the likes of an American healthcare system,” Yates said, “which is one of the most expensive in the world and with poor outcomes – totally unsustainable over the longer term.

“COTA would strongly urge the government to carefully consider the probable negative impact of some of these recommendations and implement a proper review before making any decisions on them.”

ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas said a GP fee and hospital tax would mean the end of universal healthcare under Medicare.

“The CoA was meant to ensure taxpayers receive value for their tax dollars and was expressly forbidden from touching concessions for wealthy superannuants and the fossil fuel industry, which currently cost the taxpayer $45 billion dollars a year,” Thomas said. “Instead, it has chosen to punish families, the aged, the disabled and the chronically ill. How can this possibly be value for our tax dollars? On behalf of our members, the ANMF is again calling on Mr Abbott to reject these recommendations, for the sake of all Australians.”

She also raised concerns for low-paid aged care workers, whom she said would be affected “by minimum wage benchmarking of 44 per cent of average earning for years to come”.

The report supports the range of reforms now being introduced; however, it also recommends additional measures to improve “the effectiveness and sustainability of the sector”.

For aged care, the commission recommends the following:

  • Including the full value of the principal residence in the current aged-care means test
  • Allowing older Australians to access equity in their principal residence, to pay for part of the cost of their services
  • Introducing a fee for providers to access the accommodation bond guarantee or, alternatively, requiring providers to take out appropriate private insurance to cover the risk of default
  • Terminating the payroll tax supplement
  • Reducing duplication in all aspects of financial reporting for the sector, as well as reducing other regulatory requirements for aged-care providers.

LASA CEO Patrick Reid welcomed the move to enable older people to use equity in their home to offset the costs of aged care, as well as the treatment of the family home as a full asset in the means test.

“Treating all assets the same [ensures] there will be no bias towards aged care residents favouring daily accommodation payments over refundable accommodation deposits (lump-sum bonds),” Reid said. “LASA had warned government that a significant reduction in lump-sum bonds would critically impact the industry’s ability to raise capital to develop more aged-care beds in accord with current demand.”

However, he labelled the removal of the payroll tax supplementation “another attack on an industry that has already borne the brunt of funding cuts”.

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