Survey highlights overwhelming opposition to independent assessments
17 May 2021 at 5:29 pm
Researchers say independent assessments will not address any of the inequities plaguing the NDIS
Only six per cent of young people with disability and their families believe the government’s controversial independent assessment reforms will be good for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a new report says.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) surveyed 270 people in January/February to understand their experiences accessing the NDIS and their thoughts on the proposed reforms.
While people currently need to get reports from multiple health providers of their choosing to assess their NDIS eligibility, these mandatory independent assessments (IA) would be conducted by NDIS-appointed healthcare professionals using standardised tools.
The federal government says IAs will deliver a “simpler, faster and fairer approach for determining a person’s eligibility”, but disability groups argue this process fails to capture the complexity of a person’s support needs and will lead to unfair outcomes.
For the young people with disability and their families surveyed who had heard about IAs, 80 per cent had a negative view, with just 6 per cent seeing this as a positive reform.
Advocates have long been concerned that IAs are a cost cutting measure to reduce the number of people in the program, and NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds admitted on federal budget night that the government was looking to “guarantee the affordability” of the scheme.
CYDA CEO Mary Sayers said she questioned whether these changes were genuinely motivated by a desire to make the NDIS fairer.
“Our communities have real concerns the changes are intended to reduce spending on the NDIS – which means reducing supports for people with disability and restricting their choice and control,” Sayers said.
“We are calling on the federal government to abandon this reform and engage in meaningful co-design with the people this affects – those that live with disability every day.”
The report also detailed the challenges many NDIS participants faced accessing the scheme and with planning processes.
Researchers noted that more than two thirds of survey respondents had difficulty finding suitable services and supports in their area, with over half needing to ask for a plan review because of insufficient supports.
The plan review process was difficult for many participants, with one respondent describing it as “a time consuming, exhausting nightmare, ending in tears”.
One of the report’s authors, Professor Helen Dickinson, told Pro Bono News these problems were not going to be solved through IAs.
“There are a number of inequities related to issues around planning and also how people access supports and services,” Dickinson said.
“And the introduction of independent assessments does nothing to address any of those inequities within the system. It’s simply the wrong solution.”
The federal government has indicated the final design of IAs will be shaped by results from an IA pilot program that is currently underway.
But Dickinson said this pilot – which is being conducted internally and not being evaluated externally – would not offer a robust evaluation suitable for making major decisions around such a significant reform.
Dickinson noted that pilot participants were being directed to give feedback on the process without knowing how the IA would affect their NDIS funding.
She said usually if you wanted evidence to make a decision of this magnitude, you would get people to volunteer for the process, and randomise them into groups that get the IAs and groups that don’t.
“You would then compare those two groups to look at whether independent assessments unduly cut funding or whether they were overgenerous. But at the moment, it is at best a feasibility study, it is not a proper evaluation,” she said.
Rather than go ahead with IA reforms, Dickinson said it would be more useful to focus on the availability of services.
She said many participants were missing out on services because they either weren’t available, had long waiting lists or were not delivered in a suitable way.
“If you look at the National Disability Insurance Agency’s data, the utilisation rate of budgets in East Arnhem, for example, is 35 per cent,” she said.
“So all of the reform effort is being put towards looking at the amount of funding people are allocated, but actually, if we look at the utilisation rates that’s where there’s serious inequities.
“I think doing some work around market maturity and supporting providers to produce the sorts of services that people want is really essential.”