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NDIS costs up, but quicker to help

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The average cost of care for those participating in the National Disability Insurance Scheme is rising, but the time taken to determine eligibility and start receiving support is falling, according to a progress report on its first trial year.

In its latest assessment of the sustainability of the Scheme, the National Disability Insurance Agency reported that, as at 30 June, 8585 eligible participants had enrolled in the scheme – 91 per cent of what had been anticipated at this stage – and of these, 7316 had current approved and funded care plans.

The Agency found that the average annualised cost of care packages was $34,600 a year, a $2400 increase since March, though it said the figure was skewed by a small number of people with very expensive care plans.

It reported that, of 5148 people in NSW and Victoria receiving support through the NDIS, 3346 (65 per cent) had approved care packages that cost less than $30,000 a year, while around 500 required care packages worth $100,000 or more a year.

In all, support for those with packages worth $30,000 or less accounted for just 18 per cent of funds committed under the scheme.

Adding to the imbalance, so far there have been fewer low cost participants than had been expected, and more at the mid-range.

“Therefore, the overall annualised average package cost is driven by a small number of participants with high cost plans,” the Agency said. “Understanding this distribution is key to monitoring the Scheme, and much more relevant than the annualised package cost.”

In a sign that the Agency’s performance is rapidly improving, the average time taken to determine eligibility to participate in the NDIS participant’s eligibility has been more than halved, from 29.7 days in the first six months of the Scheme to 13.3 days in the second six months.

Applicants now face an average wait of 94 days to begin receiving services, a week less than six months ago.

Overall, the Agency found the Scheme in its cost and implementation was broadly on track, so far allaying concerns of an unexpected budget blow-out.

The Scheme is being trialled in a number of locations across the country prior to its full national roll-out.

As at 1 July it was being offered to people with disabilities in the following locations:

South Australia: children aged 13 years and younger;

Tasmania: people aged between 15 and 24 years;

Victoria: people 65 years or younger living in the City of Greater Geelong, Colac-Otway Shire, Borough of Queenscliffe and Surf Coast Shire;

New South Wales: people 65 years or younger living in the local government areas of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie;

Australian Capital Territory: staged intake of all eligible residents up to the age of 65 years;

Western Australia: people 65 years or younger living in the local government areas of Swan, Kalamunda and Mundaring; and

Northern Territory: people 65 years or younger living in the Barkly region around Tennant Creek.

The assessment of those participating the scheme has so far been largely positive.

Asked to rate their satisfaction between -2 (extremely dissatisfied) and +2 (extremely satisfied), those surveyed by the Agency reported an average score of 1.66, a level consistent with the last survey conducted in March.

There has been some nervousness that the Federal Government might look to scale back its commitment to the NDIS, but Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, said the Commonwealth remained “firmly committed” to the Scheme and its full national roll-out and paid tribute to the “herculean effort” of Agency staff to get the trial sites up and running.

“The Commonwealth remains firmly committed to the NDIS and is working closely with our state and territory counterparts and the NDIA to deliver the full national rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme,” the Minister said, adding that the Government was closely monitoring the Agency’s performance.

“It is important that the NDIA be a continually learning organisation that can listen to feedback and make adjustments as necessary,” he said. “It is to be expected that there would be important lessons to be learned following the first year of the operation of the trial sites. This is how we will ensure that the Scheme can be the best that it can be.”

Shadow Minister for Disability Reform Claire Moore said the Scheme’s performance so far was a credit to Agency staff and service providers, and said Labor would hold Prime Minister Tony Abbott to his promise to deliver the NDIS in full and on time.

The Agency has urged medical practitioners to help in implementing the NDIS by assisting patients with a disability assess their eligibility for assistance.

“The NDIS is designed to support thousands of people with a significant and permanent disability that affects their ability to take part in everyday activities,” the Agency said. “People with a disability that significantly affects their communication, mobility, self-care or self-management may be eligible. The NDIS also covers people for whom there is good evidence early intervention would substantially reduce the impact of the disability.”

The Agency has asked doctors to direct patients to the online self-assessment tool, My Access Checker, which is at ndis.gov.au/my-access-checker.

The Checker helps people with permanent and significant disability assess whether they may be eligible for assistance from the NDIS. The process may involve health professionals providing information about their patient’s diagnosis, treatment, the duration of their impairment and the impact their disability has on their ability to perform daily tasks.

For more information about the NDIS, visit ndis.gov.au or call 1800 800 110.

Adrian Rollins