Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable older Australians will be excluded from the federal government's much vaunted Support at Home Program until at least mid-2027.
Aged Care Minister Anika Wells said the new program will now be delivered in two stages with Home Care Package and Short-Term Restorative Care Program recipients moving to the new upgraded program on July 1, 2025 but Commonwealth Home Support Program recipients will have to wait at least a further two years.
The CHSP currently provides home care (mainly low level) to 800,000 people, while the Home Care Package Program provides care to just 250,000 people, 113,000 of which receive low level care. HCPP also provides clinical and nursing care at home for higher level packages.
Some approved HCPP applicants are forced onto the CHSP for care as an alternative as there are too few home care packages.
Originally the new Support at Home Program was to begin in July 2023 but was delayed to allow providers more time to set up their care and administrative processes.
"The staged approach will give all CHSP providers time to change their business systems and adjust to new payment arrangements. This will ensure they can operate successfully under Support at Home and avoid disruptions for their clients," said Ms Wells.
However, the announcement has left peak seniors' organisations disappointed and wondering if a fully implemented Support at Home program will ever eventuate.
A spokesperson for Combined Pensioners and Superannuants said, "the two main home care programs were supposed to have merged by July 2023, but it's still not happened and perhaps never will.
"Its (the government's) statement that 'the CHSP will transition to the new program no earlier than July 1, 2027' is strictly the promise of a second stage on the never-never.
"However, it's clear that adding another two years' delay (to July 2027) for the main programs to merge and doing so a year-and-a-half out from July 2025, when it was supposed to happen, surely can only mean one thing, namely, that it is never going to happen?
"It's a pity that amongst all those announcements of delays and postponements so many CHSP providers have thrown in the towel at the prospect of having to operate in ways they couldn't.
"It's also a pity for the people they provided care to, who have experienced stress and disruption unnecessarily."
Council on the Ageing chief executive Patricia Sparrow said the fundamental design feature of Support at Home was the merger of HCPP and CHSP to ensure equity and consistency for the one million older people receiving some form of care to remain in their own home regardless of where they live in Australia.
"The reason for merging the programs was for older people to have access to the same types of services in their area as well as giving them more control of the services provided to them," she said.
She described the announcement as a real set-back for many older people and their families.
National Seniors Australia chief executive Chris Grice said the organisation supported building a new home care system that works for older people.
"This additional delay means older people have to wait longer for a new and improved care at home system to be fully implemented.
"Older people, their families and carers deserve to know what the action plan is for ensuring providers are ready as quickly as possible to participate in the new arrangements."
However aged care providers have supported the government's delay.
While recognising the government's "ambitious plans", Aged Care Industry Association chief executive Peter Hoppo said providers faced significant challenges providers face in adapting to comprehensive regulatory and reporting changes while maintaining normal operations. "The rapid implementation of reforms often results in poor staff morale and the diversion of resources away from frontline services and those who the reforms are intended to benefit most."
Aged and Community Care Providers Association chief executive Tom Symondson said the organisation welcome the decision as a means of bringing confidence to more than one million older Australians that their services will continue into the future, as well as certainty for providers, as they prepare for unprecedented reforms in home care.
"We have been engaging the government on the transitional timeframes for the various aged care programs that will comprise the new Support at Home Program.
"We look forward to contributing further to the design of the new Support at Home Program and other aged care reforms as they evolve to ensure quality care for older Australians."