In July 2014, the Commonwealth Government introduced an Aged Care Means Test Assessment for all new clients accessing Home Care Packages. Many remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have assumed that they don’t need to worry about their clients being means or assets tested to receive aged care services. After all, the clients usually live in public housing, receive a pension or allowance of some sort and rarely do they have any substantial assets. However, we have started to see some anomalies crop up that you may need to keep in mind.
Yes, if a client is in receipt of a Centrelink aged care pension or a disability pension they are ‘in the system’ already. They have already provided information about their assets and income position so automatically receive an exemption from needing to complete the aged care means test assessment. But not all your clients may be on a pension. What happens if they are still receiving a Newstart Allowance or other payments?
Because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are eligible to access aged care support from the age of 50, we encounter clients with chronic disease condition in receipt of Home Care Packages who are under the age of 65. Generally, these people are receiving a Newstart Allowance rather than a Disability Support Pension; chronic disease is not considered a disability in most cases.
So what has been happening on some remote communities over the past 12 months is that people have been assessed and approved for a Home Care Package. Along with their assessment they also receive advice that they may need to provide evidence of their assets and income, a request that has generally been ignored or forgotten about. However, if they do not complete the aged care means test assessment form and they are not a Centrelink ‘pensioner', they may be liable to pay the maximum income tested fee to their Home Care service provider.
Generally, the services have not become aware of this requirement until they receive a letter advising that they will not be receiving the full Home Care Package subsidy and need to bill the client for the difference. The subsidy amount that is withheld amounts to over $10,000/annum. As most remote services currently hold mainly level 2 packages this means that if this is not resolved in a speedy manner they will be losing a substantial amount of funding. Admittedly, once the client completes the assessment form, and it is accepted, the service can receive the balance of funds backdated to the commencement of the service. However, for smaller organisations this can lead to serious cash flow problems.
We have observed this situation occurring both for new approvals and for existing clients who have been reassessed and approved for a higher package level.
So what should you be doing?
Firstly, ensure you are capturing the type of payment your clients are in receipt of when conducting an intake assessment. Yes, this might be information that is also collected by the My Aged Care assessor and they may advise potential clients that they need to complete the relevant forms, however in my experience, even in mainstream, completing an 18 page form is daunting and many people would prefer to ignore it, especially if it doesn’t affect their fortnightly pension directly.
Secondly, assist your clients or potential clients to complete the form; it's not that difficult but does require the client to have copies of their latest bank statements. If you don't have time, direct them to the local Centrelink agency and ask them to help the client to complete the form.
Thirdly, be diligent. I would advise checking what payment all your current clients are in receipt of – it’s best to be prepared ahead of time if you need to have someone reassessed at a higher support level.