Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Government rules out asset and means testing of elderly health services

Currently, support services for older people are funded by district health boards. Photo / iStock
Currently, support services for older people are funded by district health boards. Photo / iStock

Looking at the financial circumstances of elderly people before providing home support has been ruled out by the Government.

Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga seemed to indicate such a step was being considered to help cope with the increasing cost of home support.

About 72,000 seniors currently receive home support, and that number and the associated cost is growing.

In question time today, Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King asked Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga what work was currently underway to look at means testing and asset testing for older New Zealanders needing home and community support services.

"There is work being done on the health of older persons strategy, that does involve looking at the increasing flexibility and responsiveness of funding streams. It also looks at improving the integration and collaboration within the health sector," Mr Lotu-Iiga said in response.

However, this evening his office clarified that means testing and asset testing was not being considered.

Support services for older people are funded by district health boards (DHBs), and are designed to help people stay in their home for as long as possible.

They may include help with personal care such as showering and dressing, and cleaning and meal preparation.

People who want to receive support services must currently have a needs assessment carried out.

Ms King said the home care sector was facing a financial crisis, with providers struggling to keep up with minimum wage increases.

That was outlined in a report presented to the Government before last month's Budget, Ms King said.

"Many organisations that look after our elderly in their own homes say they are operating at, or very close to, loss."

Julie Haggie, chief executive of the Home and Community Health Association, said she understood the wider funding picture for elderly support would be reviewed this year.

The Government was trying to work out how to cope with increasing costs, Ms Haggie said. Any changes would need to be carefully weighed.

"You need to look at how people react if they have to pay for care in their own home, and whether that will encourage them to be more mindful of their care, or whether it won't.

"You do need to make changes sometimes in health. We think though that currently it is really efficient and cost effective to help people remain at home. And you don't want to lose that."

- NZ Herald

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