Paralysed by choice: on tofu and aged care

Sometimes I can be found in a supermarket aisle confronted by the sheer choice in front of me. For example, take tofu (for my daughter). Which tofu? Organic? Silky? Chilli, teriyaki or plain? I am paralysed by choice, a situation often resolved by taking home different varieties. It isn’t just a situation confronting fathers shopping for tofu. It is the plight of many older Australians needing home care.

This February marks 12 months since the federal government gave older Australians the choice of provider and complete portability of their government-subsidised “package” of care, letting older consumers choose what services they need. The government has released 6000 more “higher care” packages yet the queue of people waiting for home care is growing (more than 100,000 in September 2017). But the number of Australians receiving home care packages declined in the first months of the new My Aged Care system. 

There is the tyranny of choice: older Australians are being assessed for home care in record numbers, but left to choose where and how to access that care. That might be great for the well-educated and those who can self-advocate. But pity older Australians who receive a letter telling them they have 56 days to decide on a provider. Our research shows almost half of those allocated a home care package had not decided on a provider.  

Barry Schwartz, in The Paradox of Choice, found while we think that more choice is going to produce greater well-being, often the opposite occurs. Confronted by an array of options, consumers decide not to decide.  Some consumer groups advocate there should be “navigators” to help older Australians get through the system but with 100,000 people in the queue these navigators will be quickly overwhelmed. A simpler solution is how our superannuation system works: we are free to choose our provider but, if we don’t we have a fund allocated by our employer. Moreover, we can change funds at any time.

The same can work for older Australians allocated a home care package. Confident and capable consumers can make their own choice. However, those who have failed to elect a provider within eight weeks would have their need for service provision referred to all accredited providers in the consumer’s location. If consumers are unhappy with their initial provider they can always change providers. After all, providing people with the home care they need shouldn’t be as hard as shopping for a daughter’s tofu.

This story Paralysed by choice: on tofu and aged care first appeared on The North West Star.