Disability insurance scheme: I’ll believe it when I see it
You might have heard all the hoo-haa last week about the NDIS, or national Disability Insurance Scheme.
In simple terms, it’s like a Medicare for disability. Not many of us use an ICU, but we all pay quite happily, through Medicare, and should the need arise, ICU care is just an ambulance ride away. Disability care and support isn’t that “neat”.
Currently, if you have a broken neck, are incontinent, need a wheelchair and an adapted vehicle, live in NSW and you acquired your disability in a car smash, your personal care support needs will be, for the most part, covered. As will your physio, speech and occupational therapy, your continence supplies (and the personal help you need for bowel and bladder care), someone to give you a shower each day, and even your wheelchair will be supplied, generally in a reasonable timeframe.
If, however, you jump into a riverbank and earn exactly the same set of injuries, you really are up shit creek, with no one to help you paddle, and, well, not even a paddle. You are likely, like Lillian Andren, to sit in a pool of your own piss four days a week, as “the system”
will only support you to have a shower twice a week.
So, for most people living life in the disabled lane, there is no “Medicare”, and an ICU crisis equivalent is the *only* care you’ll get (the “skip the antibiotics from the GP, let’s wait til we’re dying from the infection and go straight to ICU” model).
Supported accommodation will likely only be provided when your parents are buried or become disabled themselves. There is no preventative care, very little support so you can work, and therapy to keep what little movement you might have functional, is non-existent. The “system” is almost entirely crisis-driven.
You might think that your Total Permanent Disability (TPD) or Income Insurance has you covered. You’re wrong. It can cost up to $180K/year for accommodation support alone, let alone all the extras, like, say, a shower chair, or an accessible vehicle, let alone someone to drive it for you.
Australians seem to think that their $2M TPD policy has them covered. Don’t get me wrong, it will help, but who, at 22 (when you’re most likely to something stupid enough to land you a quadriplegic) has a TPD policy anyway? And of course, you can’t buy TPD to cover childhood brain cancer, or a traumatic birth resulting in the lifelong intelligence of a three year old, or whatever tragedy may befall your family.
Enter the knights in shining armour - the Productivity Commission - whose job it is to produce reports that suggest changes for Government to make our country an even luckier one. They’re a bunch of hard-nosed bastards, and simply do not recommend anything without the actuarial evidence to prove their ideas will make our fine country more prosperous.
The PC team, commissioned by Disability champion Bill Shorten, came out with these opening lines in their two volume, 1,049 page report:
“Most families and individuals cannot adequately prepare for the risk and financial impact of significant disability. The costs of lifetime care can be so substantial that the risks and costs need to be pooled.”
And then “The current disability support system is underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient…”
It recommends a system that gives some 410,000 Australians with severe disability the personal care, accommodation modifications, therapy, equipment and supports they need to live a dignified life. It won’t provide an adapted Mercedes Benz coupe, or a mansion on the harbour, but it would allow people with disabilities the ability to work where possible, and to hopefully prevent some of the tragedies we’ve seen in the sector.
The report goes on to say that a national no-fault system for all Australians with a severe disability (regardless of how or when they got it) would require a doubling of Australia’s current spend – taking a further $6.3B per annum out of the budget. It recommends that the extra funds are taken from general revenue - not an extra tax or Medicare style levy.
It also says that the benefits of the NDIS “would significantly outweigh the costs”, “the funding of the scheme is feasible and manageable” and that that within five years, the NDIS will pay for itself.
How the hell could it do that?
Well, if disabled adults could get the supported accommodation they need, their parent carers could maybe go to work, instead of living off welfare in public housing on the public dime. Carl Thompson, a Melburnian uni student who uses an electric wheelchair and needs help to go to the toilet, could get a job anywhere, instead of being confined to rolling distance from Flinders Street station, where a charity group help him go to the toilet at lunchtime (I guess other people with Carl’s needs just have to shit in their pants, or not work at all, relying on an ageing parent to do this work at home).
So – what was the big announcement last week? Julia Gillard, with Bill Shorten and Jan McLucas by her side announced $10M for an advisory committee to do some set up work. Oh, and she’s gonna talk with COAG about stuff.
Where’s the $6.3B per annum the PC recommended? Nowhere. But maybe in seven years, according to Julia Gillard.
“Seven years!!” the disabled and carers scream. “It only took twelve months to commit $42B for the NBN!”
“The $8B Carbon Tax only took 18 months.”
Does Julia’s announcement sound eerily like Hawke’s “No Australian child will be living in poverty”? David Holst, of Disability Speaks in South Australia certainly thinks so. His media release was scathing of the Gillard Government’s excruciating dragging, stating “Who knows what the political or financial climate will be in twelve months time far less in seven years time”.
When the Government states in their presser launching an NDIS (or rather, an advisory committee) “These reforms will be delivered in a way that is consistent with the Government’s fiscal strategy” one has to wonder exactly what that fiscal strategy is.
This week’s guest column was written by Sam Paior, the parent of two children with disabilities. Sam founded Parents Helping Parents Australia (parentshelpingparents.org.au) and is a board member of Dignity for Disability (d4d.org.au), a political party represented by the very honourable Kelly Vincent MLC who gets around in the South Australian Parliament in her wheelchair. The views here are her own.
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