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Most doctors shut out of disability assessments

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Only Commonwealth-appointed doctors will have the authority to assess the eligibility of patients for the Disability Support Pension under changes that come into force on 1 January.

As the Federal Government searches for ways to trim its welfare bill, Social Security Minister Kevin Andrews has announced that family doctors will be stripped of the ability to assess claims for the DSP, with only a select number of doctors to be given such authority.

Mr Andrews said the change would lead to “more efficiency and more consistency, more equity in terms of granting the DSP,” and would result in more people going off welfare and entering the workforce.

“The Government is committed to maintaining a safety net for those who cannot support themselves, but may others remain on the pension longer than they need to,” the Minister said. “We believe that having work is meaningful for people, important for them and their families.”

The change has come against the backdrop of a Government crackdown on the number of people receiving the DSP.

Earlier this year, Mr Andrews ordered his department to reassess the eligibility of all 16,000 people younger than 35 years receiving the DSP, and a result half were found to be either able to work for more than eight hours a week, or to undertake work-for-the-dole or work experience programs.

And last financial year, the Department of Human Services judged that 411 people, out of 832,024 recipients, had dishonestly claimed disability benefits worth $9.5 million.

AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis said the medical profession support the Government in its determination to ensure taxpayers funds were not wasted, but urged care in the way it implemented the change in the DSP assessment process.

In particular, Dr Parnis said it was important that, in conducting their assessments, Commonwealth-appointed doctors consulted with a claimant’s regular doctor so that they gained a full understanding of the person’s medical history, in order to avoid “adverse decision-making”.

The move has been condemned by the Australian Greens as a “witch-hunt”.

“Forcing people to visit doctors they’ve never met before and who have no idea about their personal circumstances is not an effective way of carrying out assessments,” Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said. “A person’s long-term doctor has better knowledge of their health, medical situation and their own personal circumstances, all of which are crucial for a thorough assessment of eligibility for the DSP. I have deep reservations about this proposal.”

Adrian Rollins