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Young Government poses fresh challenges for healthy ageing priorities

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The recent change of Government heralds some interesting changes for aged care.

Health care for Australia’s ageing population did not feature particularly strongly during the 2013 election campaign, despite the AMA’s attempts to spark debate with the release of its Key Health Issues document, and calls for increased funding and Medicare rebates for medical services provided for dementia, palliative and aged care patients.

Many have been left wondering what the Government’s overarching vision is for aged care after it unveiled the new-look Ministry for Health and Sports and announced that aged care would be relocated into the ever-expanding Department of Human Services.

An indication of where the Government stands on aged care can be found in the Coalition’s policy Healthy Life, Better Ageing, released in September. In this document, the Coalition pledges it will use the Productivity Commission’s Caring for Older Australians report to guide future policy.

It commits an additional $200 million over five years for dementia research, and sets out a plan to reduce regulation, cut red tape and prioritise future reform by negotiating a five-year Healthy Life, Better Ageing Agreement with the aged care sector. The document has a clear focus on supporting reforms that will streamline and strengthen the aged care health sector.

Encouragingly, the new Government has also indicated they will support the continuation of many reforms in the Living Longer Living Better aged care package, including flexible arrangements for living in the community, and workable standards.

Above all, the Coalition’s Healthy Life, Better Ageing policy document suggests a the Government will adopt a consultative style in relation to aged care issues. In this environment, the AMA will to continue to call for a review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule to support the assessment and management of dementia in primary care, and to reflect the complexity of providing care to older Australians in aged care facilities and the community.

The real fear for aged care, however, is that without a dedicated Minister there is the potential for a lack of attention and a lack of dedicated resources for specific aged care issues.

The new administrative arrangements for health and aged care pose new challenges to the Committee for Healthy Ageing. We will need to look for opportunities to work with the restructured federal Ministry to keep the priorities of the ageing population on the national health agenda.