Grim Reaper is catching up with the Baby Boomers, waving billsJun 17, 2023
Having witnessed the last days of my parents and in-laws, I don’t delude myself – as they did – that I’ll be able to avoid being carted off to an old people’s home. Sorry, an aged care residential facility.
Actually, I dream of dying in the saddle. My last, half-finished column would be the announcement that I’d finally made way for the bright young women coming up behind me. That’s assuming they hadn’t already found a chance to push me under a bus.
Speaking of bright young women, Anthony Albanese’s Minister for Aged Care and Sport, Anika Wells, seems to be attacking her job with much more enthusiasm than her Coalition predecessors.
In a speech to the National Press Club last week, she noted that Labor inherited a system that a royal commission had characterised with a single word – “neglect”. She’d spent the past 12 months engaged in “triage” and “urgent reform” and was now able to think about the future.
And what’s she been thinking? “I don’t want Australians to be scared about the care they will be provided in later life,” she said. “I don’t want daughters and sons worried about the treatment their parents will receive.”
The Howard government’s Aged Care Act of 1997 was aimed at saving money by turning aged care over to community and for-profit providers. It was focused on how the providers were to run their services, setting out their obligations and responsibilities.
But, as recommended by the royal commission, the government planned to introduce a new act next year, this time focused on the rights of older people, with “a clear statement that the care provided to residents is safe and of high quality”.
Labor had already done much to fix the system, she said, but there were more challenges ahead, and “we must act now”. Why? Because “the Baby Boomers are coming”. (I’d have thought they’d come some time ago, and the real problem was their looming departure.)
But I imagine the Boomers (present company excepted) will be living a lot longer than previous generations – thanks to advances in medical science and being the first generation to realise that exercise was something to be sought and enjoyed, not avoided.
But though their arrival in aged care may be at a later age, their later lives won’t be trouble-free and certainly not doctor-free.
One change we’ll be seeing is more in-home care. Almost everyone would prefer to keep living at home rather than go off to a “facility” (sounds like a toilet block). The previous government did introduce the home-care package, but it was expensive and limited in how many people it provided for.
Wells is introducing a new Support at Home program in July 2025 which, by delaying or eliminating people’s move to facility care, should save money.
But her big announcement last week was the setting up of an aged care taskforce – chaired by her good self – to answer the royal commission’s “great unanswered question”: How to make aged care equitable and sustainable into the future?
Which is a politician’s way of saying, “How are we gonna pay for all this?”
One of the commissioners wanted a new aged care tax levy of one per cent of everyone’s taxable income (which, in practice, would be added to the present two per cent Medicare levy), whereas the other wanted some unspecified combination of a levy and a means-tested contribution from users.
Wells notes that, within a decade, we’ll have, for the first time ever, more people aged over 65 than under 18. And the proportion of people aged 15 to 64 – the people working and paying income tax – will shrink.
Now, this is the point where we need to remember that we’ve gone for decades stacking the financial rules against the younger generation and in favour of the oldies. We’ve kept handing tax breaks to the ageing. Old people can have good incomes that are largely untaxed, whereas young people on the same money have to pay up and pay for their tertiary education.
It’s not true that every Boomer’s rolling in it – there are poor people in every generation – but most have done pretty well. Most were able to climb aboard the home-ownership gravy train when homes were still affordable. Many have been able to buy an investment property or two on the top.
And though the compulsory superannuation scheme hasn’t applied to the whole of their working lives, they’ll be retiring with a lot more, hugely taxpayer-subsidised super than any previous generation.
So, the idea of spreading the entire cost of the Boomers’ aged care – whether in-home or in-facility – across all those people young enough to still be working and paying income tax ought to be unthinkable.
If Labor doesn’t summon the courage to ask those Baby Boomers who’ve done OK to help pay directly for the cost of their highly privileged lives’ last stage, it will just prove what a rotten world Albo and the rest of us have left our offspring.
Republished from The Sydney Morning Herald June 14, 2023