My 2018 Christmas Message

Christmas Time Thoughts

Many years ago, I spent one Christmas time away from family and stayed with friends in the Great Southern area of Western Australia. Their father had died when they were both quite young. 

View this greeting as a video.

As boys, these brothers became the men in the family and over time built up their farming property to be a successful enterprise.  They were both good, honest, hardworking men, who also were faithful in their Christian belief.

I could certainly talk with them about harvest time, how the wheat, barley,and oats grew, why back then one had to wait until a little later in the morning to start up the header and get out and cut into the crop.  But talking about personal things was difficult for them – they were just quiet guys who had some really good things to say, but just didn’t much like speaking it out.

There is this man talked about in the Bible who really had a huge impact about all we believe and practice at Christmas time, but of whom, from Scripture, we never hear a spoken word.  We hear from Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.  Tradition has called Mary’s Song the Magnificat.  We hear from Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and (eventually) from Zechariah, John’s father.

But we don’t ever read a recorded word that was spoken by Joseph.  Oh,we read of his at least three dream encounters with an angel, or God Himself –first with a message to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his father;the second to flee from Israel and travel to Egypt – an historic refugee journey – and third; to return to Israel because it was now safe to doso.  Given the cultural and societal significance of all of the above,Joseph was a very courageous man.  The strong silent type if you will.  A lowly carpenter, from one of the lowliest places in the whole of Israel, at that time overrun by the Roman Empire, and “ruled” by a king who was a Roman puppet.  Joseph did not have to do this, but he felt so led by God that he could not avoid the challenge set before him.

Just a day or so ago I read this social media post: “Sometimes God will puta Goliath in your life, for you to find the David within you.”  I am sure that Joseph will have wondered something like “You want me to do what exactly?”,or “Why me?”, but he did.  We just don’t ever hear his thoughts and words expressed.

There are some significant challenges in the year ahead for our aged care work.  The looming Goliath is of course the Royal Commission into AgedCare Quality and Safety.  You may already feel quite uneasy about what that is likely to reveal and how we will get through this.  We will – no matter how much we are required to provide, and even to share with the Australian public – we will get through this.

My concern for each of you though is that even if your voice does not godown in any formal recorded historical moment, if you have any concerns about your wellbeing through this next twelve months, speak up.  We want to also care for you.  If you need at any time to share any concern about our behaviour that is both unbecoming, and contrary to our desire to provide a dignified life to our residents, then please share that with us too, so that we all be a “David” and improve how we provide our services.

Folks, I pray and hope that your 2018 Christmas brings you much joy, peace,and blessing, and that you have at least some time to reflect of the enormity of the coming of Jesus into the world – not to destroy the world, but to saveit!God bless you all – and Happy Christmas!

Aged Care Sector Financial Comparators

These days I only read the newspaper on the weekend.  My favourite is still The Weekend Australian.  It often has thought provoking articles, and occasionally some fodder upon which one can reflect from an aged care sector perspective.

The December 8-9, 2018 edition is just one of those occasions.

On page 2, there is an article bemoaning the recent year upon year increase in private health insurance premium rates.  The article reports that ‘Health Minister Greg Hunt … expected to approve an industry average below 3.95 per cent … the lowest since 2001.’ It also includes commentary about the anticipated significantly lower rate increase out to 2022 promised by the current Federal Opposition.   

According to Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) figures cited by The Weekend Australian, the industry weighted average premium increases approved by the Minister for Health since 2015 are as follows:

2015: ​​6.18%

2016: ​​5.95%

2017​​: 4.84%

2018​​: 3.95%

2019​: Under​ 3.95%

I understand the impact of high levels of private health insurance premiums, that seem reachable by those who for whatever reason determine them to be affordable.  What is more, in contrast to aged care funding, the payment of insurance premiums does not come from the Government purse, but rather from individuals who have determined their affordability.

I find this article useful, if only because for almost the past twenty years I have been monitoring Health Ministers making similar approvals for health insurance premium increases yet at the same time, as the senior Minister over the aged care portfolio, makingstarkly lower indexation for payments for recipients of care or, more indirectly, to the providers of care to aged care recipients.

The comparison of funding increases made to aged care providers through the various indexations against several alternate indicia is shown below:

The chart above clearly shows that whilst aged care funding indexation has indeed kept fairly much in line with CPI, it has failed to keep close to Work Price Index (“WPI”), Average Weekly Earnings (“AWE”), and the greatest gap is between aged care funding and private health insurance premiums.

I will be among the first to say that additional funds are not always the determinant of better quality.  Yet the absence of an equitable funding methodology in residential aged care since 1997, and growing concern about insufficient supply of places in community based aged care since February 2017, seems obvious.  

Inclusive of some $1.7 billion removed from forward funds in 2015 and 2016, there is a clear pattern of diminishing Government expenditure in aged care over the past twenty years to a point where it is highly unlikely that even courageous and good providers of care will be able to sustain their service provision without a sizeable injection of funding.

It has been just three days since the Federal Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport recommended support for the Aged Care Amendment (Staffing Ratio Disclosure) Bill 2018.

I support the recommendation that aged care providers disclose their staffing ratios. However, it would be unreasonable to expect that providers will be able to achieve a reasonable staff ratio without an immediate and substantial injection of funds – albeit with reporting requirements.

Perhaps the Royal Commission can consider this matter in their review processes into the whole aged care sector quality and safety funding and performance?

Nice chatting

Wayne L Belcher

Bibliography

Alex Grove, Residential aged care funding: recent developments Parliament of Australia

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health Aged Care and Sport, ‘Advisory Report on the Aged Care Amendment (Staffing Ratio Disclosure) Bill 2018’ (Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra), December 2018 

Sean Parnell, ‘Rise in health premiums likely lowest in decades’, The Australian (Sydney, NSW), 8 December 2018