‘The baby boomers are coming’: Task force to tackle aged-care funding question

A genuine conversation needs to be had about aged-care funding, Anika Wells says.

A genuine conversation needs to be had about aged-care funding, Anika Wells says. Photo: AAP

Aged Care Minister Anika Wells says the government is considering a range of options to make aged-care funding fairer and more sustainable and is establishing a task force to decide between them.

Two years on from a landmark royal commission into the sector, Ms Wells said the government had a “genuine duty to deliberate” on questions such as whether to impose a levy on taxpayers to help fund a better aged-care system.

“We need to have an honest, responsible and mature discussion about what aged care is going to look like in this country,” Ms Wells told the ABC on Sunday.

“This is just one policy area that has been allowed to drift as ‘too hard’ for decades and decades.”

A levy was not part of Labor’s election platform.

But proposals raised as part of the aged care royal commission included an income tax increase and an increase to the Medicare levy.

Up to one in three people in residential care or home care “have experienced substandard care”, one commissioner said at the time.

The minister chairs the new aged care task force, which will consider the question of funding in a “short, sharp” review of about six months duration.

“We’re still not advocating a particular policy,” Ms Wells said.

The government has had to ditch its pledge to have a nurse on-site at all aged care homes by mid-year.

“Come July 1, even where we fall short, there will still be many, many more nurses providing many, many more hours of care in nursing homes than they ever would have been had we not,” she said.

Homes that have advertised for nurses but have been unable to hire them will be exempted from the requirement, which the government had passed into law.

Ms Wells said the task force was focused on ensuring older Australians have a choice regarding their care.

“Whether that’s a choice to stay at home for as long as possible, whether that’s a choice to enter a particular model of residential aged care,” she said.

She would not be drawn on how much extra funding the aged-care sector would require.

“I think that would be putting the cart before the horse,” she said.

“We are coming at this from the perspective (of) ‘how do we lift the standard of care in this country?’.”

She said many Australians wanted higher-quality aged care and would be willing to pay for it, but it wasn’t available.

“We need a system that people feel like they’ve got a choice about where they go, and if they have the means to pay for it, they can do so,” Ms Wells said.

Last week, Ms Wells used an address at the National Press Club to float the idea of a taxpayer levy to fund improvements to the sector.

“We must act now, the baby boomers are coming,” she said.

“Within a decade, our nation will have, for the first time in history, more people aged over 65 than under 18.

“We are going to need a fair and equitable system to meet the needs of baby boomers who, with their numbers and determination to solve problems, have shaken every single system they’ve come across.”

The new task force will return recommendations by the end of the year.

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