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Budget 2024: $1.4b for “significant” aged care tech, $1.2b for Strengthening Medicare

15 May 2024
| 1 comment
By Kate McDonald
Image: iStock

$1.4 billion in “significant technology and platform maintenance and enhancements” was allocated for critical aged care digital systems in the yesterday’s Australian budget but the exact details of what the funds will be spent on remains unclear.

The funding is part of a big push in the budget in preparation for the new Aged Care Act, which is still being drafted but which the government has promised will be introduced this year, with a further amendment bill to establish the Support at Home (SaH) program to start on July 1 2025.

SaH is replacing Home Care Packages from that data and will also replace the Commonwealth Home Support Program from 2027.

The new Aged Care Act will also underpin support the government’s response to the Aged Care Taskforce report released in March, which reviewed funding arrangements for aged care and found that the precarious financial state of the residential aged care sector is a barrier to innovation.

“Underpinning the aged care reforms, including those dependent on the new Act, significant technology and platform maintenance and enhancements will be funded to ensure critical aged care digital systems will remain contemporary and comply with legislation ($1.4 billion),” the budget papers say.

“Improved systems will help older people, their families and carers, access aged care services and reduce administrative burden for aged care providers by better integrating aged care and health systems.”

Extra home care packages will be provided in a $531.4 million pledge, which the government says will complement the roll-out of the Single Assessment System from July 1, 2024, which will provide older people with a single entry point and needs assessment for aged care.

$37.0 million has also been allocated to the My Aged Care contact centre to address increased demand and service complexity for older Australians and their families seeking aged care systems support.

Aged Care Minister Anika Wells said that since the 2022-23 budget, investment in aged care had increased by 25 per cent. This year’s budget was aimed at trying to strengthen the foundation to make sure that the new Aged Care Act will be a success for everyone who interacts with it, she said.

“Probably the headline thing that you’ll see in news coverage is that there’s $531 million provisioned for an extra 24,100 home care packages,” she said told a Department of Health and Aged Care webinar today.

“That’s designed to help the system stay afloat until new support at home comes in through the new act alongside some other measures that [Health Minister Mark Butler] has touched on …

“There’s $882 million designed to do things like to get older Australians out of hospital, provide better short term and transit stays, provide better virtual services to get people the specialist services that they need in place.

“I’m sure everyone’s favourite announcement is $1.4 billion for an ICT upgrade across the sector. That’s in a lot of different places. Again, very important, very worthy work that is designed to prepare everybody for the new Act and all the requirements and things that we want to do in the new Act.”

On the recommendations of the Royal Commission, Ms Wells said 69 of those recommendations had been delivered and from now on they will be delivered in tranches, with about 40 recommendations tied up in introducing the new Act.

Strengthening Medicare

As part of the $1.2 billion Strengthening Medicare package, states and territories will be funded with $882.2 million to deliver programs that help older patients avoid unnecessary hospital admissions as well as hospital outreach services in the community and virtual care services.

Health Minister Mark Butler said these initiatives were allied to the government’s focus on landing a new hospital funding agreement with the states under the National Health Reform Agreement (NHRA).

“We don’t just want this to be a financing deal that seeks to determine who pays what for existing hospital services,” he said. “We want this genuinely to be a reform agreement and I think there’s a real appetite at state and territory level to do that as well.

“There’s a particular focus in our discussions with states on the interfaces between different parts of the system, so how the hospital system interfaces with primary care with aged care and with disabilities. And last night, we talked about $1.2 billion of new investments the Commonwealth will make to improve those interactions between different parts of the system.”

Mr Butler said the ageing population and lack of transitional care was a critical challenge facing hospital systems, with older patients required to stay in hospitals way beyond the clinically recommended time because there’s nowhere to discharge them to.

“So there’s almost $900 million of investment in the budget in really targeting this area of challenge,” he said. “We’ve asked states for some some ideas, some proposals for innovative ways in which first of all, we can try to prevent older Australians having to go to hospital in the first place.

“Some of those models involve quite sophisticated virtual care, links between hospitals and aged care facilities in particular, but also geriatric in-reach from hospital systems into those aged care facilities.

“The other challenge is more the back end of the hospital system where people have had to go to hospital or ready clinically to be discharged, but are struggling to find a place that is able to take them. We’re also looking at innovative ways to expand those options.”

Mr Butler said there was also a package in the budget of $360 million for new initiatives in mental health, including a digital early intervention service for people having relatively mild bouts of mental illness or temporary periods of distress.

Head to Health centres, which cater for people with moderate to more complex mental health issues, will be rebadged as Medicare Mental Health Centres.

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One comment on “Budget 2024: $1.4b for “significant” aged care tech, $1.2b for Strengthening Medicare”

  1. It would help if doctors were legally permitted to raise the VAD conversation as appropriate with some patients.

    • Name - Dr Ian Colclough

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