AMA Calls For “Bipartisan Commitment” to Fund NDIS
Thursday, 12th April 2018 at 5:22 pm
The Australian Medical Association has called on Labor to support a Medicare levy rise to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but the opposition said they had a “better and fairer” way to fund the scheme.
The AMA released a position statement on the NDIS on Thursday, calling for “bipartisan commitment to fund the [scheme] to ensure its continuing viability”.
The major parties are currently divided on how to fully fund the NDIS, with the government proposing a 0.5 per cent increase to the Medicare levy for all taxpayers, while Labor wants the levy to rise only for workers earning over $87,000.
AMA president Dr Michael Gannon, told The Australian on Thursday that Labor’s position was “disappointing” and that the funding of the NDIS should not be used as “a political football”.
The position statement outlined that governments must commit to fund the NDIS and ensure all eligible recipients were provided appropriate and adequate funding packages.
“The AMA acknowledges that at this stage the NDIS is not yet completely operating as intended, with funding concerns and problems with eligibility and assessments being an issue,” the paper said.
“However, as with other major reforms, the AMA recognises the need to balance reasonable criticisms of the NDIS without undermining either confidence in, or integrity of, the NDIS.”
— AMA President (@amapresident) April 11, 2018
Responding to the AMA’s position, Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters there was another way to fund the NDIS.
“I think the AMA is being used as a pawn there by the government,” Shorten said.
“Running a government is all about priorities. Mr Turnbull says the only way you can look after people with disability is people on $50-60,000 paying more tax. I say wrong, wrong and wrong, Malcolm.
“What you need to do is you need to actually stop giving tax cuts to millionaires, stop handing away billions of dollars in tax subsidies to the very wealthy – there is another way to fund the NDIS.”
Labor shadow ministers Chris Bowen and Jenny Macklin put out a media statement on Thursday that said “the future of the NDIS [would be] secure under a Shorten Labor government”.
“Labor has a plan that is better and fairer for the budget, and raises $4.5 billion more than the government’s proposed tax rise over 10 years,” they said.
“We want to increase the Medicare levy for people earning above $87,000 and keep the deficit levy for those income earners earning more than $180,000.
“The Turnbull government’s plan to increase the Medicare Levy would increase the tax burden on vulnerable people earning as little as $21,000 a year.”
— Andrew Leigh (@ALeighMP) April 12, 2018
The AMA position statement also contained a number of recommendations for the NDIS around mental health and psychosocial disability.
Gannon said it was vital the scheme had the right balance of support between traditional medical mental health treatment and psychosocial supports for everyone, regardless of their NDIS eligibility.
“Appropriate NDIS packages should be available for all eligible Australians with permanent psychiatric impairment resulting in substantially reduced capacity,” Gannon said.
“It should not matter how that permanent impairment is acquired. Acquired brain injury, including drug and alcohol-related brain injury, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), should not be grounds for ineligibility.
“The condition is what makes a person eligible for an NDIS package, regardless of how it may have been caused.”
Amanda Bresnan, the executive director of Community Mental Health Australia, told Pro Bono News that while she supported using a Medicare levy to fund the NDIS, addressing implementation issues were a greater concern for her.
“I think the major issue for us, particularly in terms of mental health, is that a decision was made to transfer mental health programs into the NDIS and to transfer community mental health funding into the NDIS, without actually having an understanding of what would happen to those people,” Bresnan said.
“We’re seeing that practicality now with much lower numbers of PHaMs [Personal Helpers and Mentors] participants getting in than was expected.
“So we do think the scheme needs to be adequately funded and through the Medicare levy is one way, which I think should be supported. But I think the bigger issue is about how implementation is actually rolling out.”
The AMA also called for investment in community mental health services, in order to provide GPs with enhanced referral pathways and service options, especially for those with low to moderate mental health issues or those in need of support managing day-to-day activities.
Bresnan said it was “great that an organisation like the AMA” was getting involved in the NDIS.
“The fact that they’ve recognised with mental health that we’ve got to have properly funded community services and that we’ve got to have funding there for people who are not going to be eligible for the NDIS [is vital],” she said.
“So I think it’s good that they’re getting involved and they’re paying attention to this because as we know, doctors and clinicians are going to be a key part of the scheme.”
There have been serious concerns raised recently that people with severe mental health issues were “falling through the gaps” of the NDIS.
Bresnan said the AMA’s suggestions would go some way to alleviating these issues.
“If [these recommendations] happen it will make a difference. But again I think it’s about all those pieces of the puzzle coming together and… state and territory governments need to be a part of this as well,” she said.
“And as we’ve said we still need to have a federally funded flexible mental health program. We’ve got $80 million through the budget with continuity of support but we don’t really know what that’s going to look like.
“We need to have that federal funding for people who won’t be eligible. And as we continue to argue, people shouldn’t have to test their eligibility for the NDIS to access continuity of support and that $80 million funding.”