National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants are concerned that service provider overcharging and wasteful spending will push the service to breaking point, denying critical support to those who need it the most.
The NDIS has been in the news recently as NDIS Minister, Bill Shorten, last week announced a new plan to address systemic issues within the Scheme as he continues to overhaul operations.
Minister Shorten hoped that by focusing on six key points of interest – including overcharging for services – the NDIS can become more efficient for people with disability.
“Frankly, it’s stressful, debilitating, frustrating and nonsensical that — every year or six months – participants have to ‘prove’ they are still disabled,” Minister Shorten said.
“Amputees must prove they’re still missing a limb. People who are blind must prove they still can’t see. People who have Down Syndrome must prove that they still have Down Syndrome.
“Instead of causing grief and wasting resources, I want us to think long term.”
Deborah Cooper is worried that support for her daughter, Ki, is compromised by fast-growing and sometimes contrasting quotes and fees.
Ki, 42, lives with an ultra-rare and severe intellectual disability known as CASK MICPCH (microcephaly with pontine and cerebellar hypoplasia). When Ms Cooper took Ki to be assessed by occupational therapists as part of her NDIS assessment, quotes ranged from $1,800 to $6,300 to produce the same report.
“If you’re engaging occupational therapists and that’s part of your funding package, you’ve got to make sure the one you’re employing that’s writing the report is not being a further drain on the NDIS,” Ms Cooper told Australian Financial Review.
Ms Cooper also highlighted the fact that appliances can become part of the wasteful spending as some NDIS participants use their funding packages for resources that may not be used for their intended purpose, such as a Thermomix.
“They’d say ‘We need a $3,000 Thermomix because we’re teaching our kids to train up to live in supported accommodation’,” she explained.
“But years later, they’re not in supported accommodation. So there’s lots of genuine need, but there’s a lot of waste as well.”
Despite those concerns, both Minister Shorten and industry experts are quick to defend the Scheme, highlighting that overcharging and financial rorting is not the norm.
Speech Pathology Australia Senior Disability Advisor, Amy Fitzpatrick, told the AFR health professionals overcharging is a “minority case” while instances of unnecessary spending often occur because professionals lack the support to always follow through on NDIS plans.
Meanwhile, Minister Shorten said his new plan to overhaul the NDIS will include lowering costs by cracking down on providers overcharging for services and enforcing accountability when it comes to providing care worth the money.
“If you’ve got a business model where you are sort of mining someone’s supported independent living package for your own interests and not the participant, sell your business now because it’s not going to be worth much by the time we’ve finished with you,” Minister Shorten said.
The Minister also said he wants to see State and Territory Governments supporting the Federal Government by funding some of the NDIS, removing pressure from the Federal Budget.
When the NDIS was first created, both the Federal and State/Territory Governments agreed to a 50/50 split of funding. As the Scheme grew, the Federal Government stepped up to take on the additional responsibility – by 2026 the Federal Government will be funding 71% of the NDIS.
That projected growth is why People Economics Director and former NDIS Strategist, Hassan Noura, told AFR State and Territory Governments will not step up as they have their own “big budget problems”.
Therefore, it remains to be seen whether Minister Shorten will be able to reign in NDIS overspending and overcharging in a timely manner to benefit participants and people with disability.