The Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021 (the Bill) was introduced to Parliament on 27 May. Importantly for home care providers, the Bill has introduced home care assurance reviews that will commence at the time the Bill is passed.
Why introduce assurance reviews?
The introduction of home care assurance reviews is the Government’s first proposed legislative change with respect to home care in response to the Aged Care Royal Commission’s Final Report.
The Bill provides for the Secretary to the Department of Health to conduct home care assurance reviews of approved providers and the home care provided by them to ensure the delivery of home care is effective. The purpose of the review is also to inform development of policy for continuous improvement as well as inform areas where education for providers is required.
Home care providers have not been subject to a review like this before and as such the proposed reviews will be new to the sector. Currently providers undergo Quality Reviews, however unlike Quality Reviews, assurance reviews will not be an assessment of a provider’s performance against the Aged Care Quality Standards. The review will be broader in scope looking at the provider and delivery of home care as a whole.
What is the scope of assurance reviews?
The scope of these reviews may include any or all of the following:
- how subsidy is being used and how providers are charging and justifying charges for home care;
- how financial accounting for home care services is structured;
- the type of home care provided;
- the nature and type of approved providers’ dealings with clients;
- anything else the Secretary considers relate to the purposes of a review, being:
- assuring that arrangements for the delivery and administration of home care are effective and efficient; and
- informing development of home care policy and education of approved providers in relation to home care and home care services.
- the home care providers’ procedures and documentation in relation to any of the above.
Given the purpose of assurance reviews, the Bill will give the Secretary the power to require information about almost all aspects of a home care provider’s business.
What are your obligations as a home care provider?
Approved providers that are corporations may be compelled to provide information or documents, or even make available officers, employees or agents to answer questions relevant to the review. At least 14 days’ notice must be given prior to this occurring.
An approved provider who is a Corporation must comply with this request and must provide “reasonable assistance.” Failure to do so can result in civil penalties.
The Secretary can also request information and documents from a person (including a provider that is not a corporation) relevant to the review but that person does not need to comply with the request.
What happens after the review?
A Review Report specific to an approved provider may be prepared and provided to that provider setting out the findings, conclusions or recommendations arising from the review. The Secretary may also prepare and publish reports on assurance reviews. The Explanatory Memorandum for this Bill states that the published reports will usually present findings in aggregate unless a specific example is warranted. The reports must not contain personal information, being information that identifies an individual. Therefore, information about an approved provider can be published.
The Secretary may publish information on providers who do not comply with notices to produce information / answer questions or provide reasonable assistance.
Positively, the Bill promises to reasonably compensate providers for the resources required to respond to a notice from the Secretary in relation to an Assurance Review, which will no doubt be onerous.
While improvements, more clarity and education is welcome in the home care sector, home care assurance reviews give the Secretary more powers to investigate the conduct of home care providers. Although there are no proposed sanctions directly related to assurance review, providers should be warned that we anticipate this will lead to more compliance action against approved providers and will likely prompt the Commission to undertake other reviews which could result in sanctions.
Finally we note that the Bill also introduces changes to the regulation of restrictive practices (starting 1 July). The current restraint provisions in the Quality of Care Principles 2014 do not apply to home care and there is no indication in the Bill or Explanatory Memorandum that the restrictive practices provisions will be extended to home care, however this cannot be confirmed until the Quality of Care Principles are amended. Please refer to our Alert “Reforms to strengthen protections against the use of restraints in aged care to align with protections in disability” for more information in relation to changes to restrictive practices.
We are here to help
Contact one of our expert team members, Victor Harcourt, Solomon Miller, and Johanna Heaven, if you have any questions regarding your obligations, or the implications of the assurance reviews.
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