Means testing delays causing havoc

Senior Dance 3

(Via Australian Ageing Agenda)

Seniors are waiting up to six weeks to have their income and assets assessed by the federal government, is causing havoc for consumers, families and aged care providers across the nation.

In addition to the backlog in processing the means tests, Sister publication to Government News, Australian Ageing Agenda (AAA) has sighted incorrect assessments that have been returned to seniors. In one case, the Department of Human Services had effectively doubled the resident’s assets in error.

As a result of the delays, providers are admitting residents without resident agreements, or signing incomplete agreements that require revision once the means testing is received.

As per the new changes that came into effect since 1 July, all new residents moving into an aged care facility need to have their income and assets assessed by the Department of Human Services.

This assessment is used to determine the costs residents can be asked to pay.

Numerous examples of delays in processing the income and assets assessments have been seen by AAA.

One provider spoke of a resident’s son who had been waiting six weeks for his mother’s means test.

“I received advice from the department about a phone number I could contact to expedite an assessment… the gentleman I spoke to laughed when I said I wanted to speed things up. He said he would notify the appropriate persons of my request but said it would not speed things up much because of the backlog. Other potential residents have sent in an income and assets assessment request before 23 July and still don’t have a statement,” they said.

Signing without full information

The provider said that in the absence of the assessment, the resident signed an agreement that did not give an accurate picture of fees and charges “because we do not have the information.”

“It is distressing for him because he cannot manage his mother’s finances appropriately until he has this information. The transition to the new accommodation pricing is complex enough without this added problem,” they said.

There were multiple other examples of potential residents who could not commit to taking a place until they knew what they would pay, she said.

Informed decision

Another provider said they had 13 admissions since 1 July but just one had received an income and assets assessment.

“We have brought them in knowing there is a risk in that the resident has not made an informed decision. We ensure the resident knows this or their family,” the provider said.

“If we don’t bring them in we would have elderly people at high risk in the community,” they added.

Incorrect assessment returned

In another case, a provider has reported a resident receiving an incorrect assessment.

The family followed up with Centrelink in July, and when Centrelink staff checked the details they confirmed the error, the provider said.

“They had not updated her asset information; they had added the new information to the older information and effectively doubled her assets. The staff member agreed Centrelink had made a mistake and they would reissue the letter with the correct details.”

However, five weeks after the initial error was identified, the family has still not received the corrected assessment, the provider said.

“The family have followed up on the hotline and gotten no meaningful outcome.  We have since admitted this resident using an approximation of the accommodation contribution using the My Aged Care fees calculator; however, it has caused a lot of stress to the resident in the interim.”

ACSA seeking action

Aged and Community Services Australia said it had held “urgent teleconferences” with both DSS and DHS this week. ACSA reported that DSS had expressed their major concerns with the delays and that DHS had transferred staff to assist with the processing of means tests.

ACSA chief executive officer John Kelly told AAA that the situation was untenable.

“DHS has had significant online Medicare claiming problems for community care providers and any new system should have been fully tested before its implementation. Providers are there to care for frail older Australians, not to be subjected to ham-fisted attempts at implementing government policy,” he said.

Adjunct Professor Kelly said there were serious implications if providers did not comply with regulations but when a major government department was unable to do its part of the job, there were assurances that everything was being done, yet nothing appeared to change.

“We have been advising both DHS and DSS of these issues and have briefed ministers and senior bureaucrats. Our members are sick of the excuses and want only to be able to go about caring for people and not being caught up in a bureaucratic bungle not of their making,” he said.

Seniors ‘denied aged care’ due to delays says peak body

Meanwhile, Leading Age Services (LASA) Victoria says nearly 400 Victorian seniors have been denied residential aged care since the new financial arrangements came into effect on 1 July, according to Leading Age Services Victoria.

The peak body said the delays in income and assets assessments were due to “critical systems failure” at Centrelink.

LASA Victoria said it recently surveyed its members and 70 per cent reported they have declined to fill a vacancy since July 1 due to a delayed Centrelink assessment which has affected over 370 elderly people. In addition, 80 per cent had not yet sighted one completed Centrelink form since the 1 July changes, the peak said.

LASA Victoria president Ingrid Williams said that since the problem has arisen, LASA had been working closely with the relevant Federal Government departments, and had requested further details of how the government intend to rectify this issue.

Human Services  responds

In response to a number of questions from Australian Ageing Agenda, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services provided the following response:

“The department is aware there have been some delays in the automatic generation of letters and is urgently working to resolve the issue. The department is generating some letters manually while the errors are being fixed and checking all other letters thoroughly. A number of the system issues have now been fixed and an increasing number of letters are now being generated automatically. The Department of Human Services has established a dedicated team to manually generate and issue the determination letters.

“Since 1 July 2014, the department has dispatched about 5,000 letters (including letters on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs). Many letters advising the outcome of means tests have been sent out, and a dedicated team will remain in place to ensure all letters are sent to customers as soon as possible.

“If a delay in providing a letter is causing inconvenience or if someone is in the position of urgently needing to access aged care recipients or their nominee, they should contact us on 1800 227 475 as soon as possible. We sincerely apologise to affected customers and thank them for their ongoing patience whilst this issue was being resolved.”

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