NDIS set for a reboot

NDIS is here to stay but needs a “reboot”, NDIS and Services Minister Bill Shorten told the National Press Club yesterday, outlining “six policy directions” to secure the scheme’s continued sustainability.

According the the latest NDIS Sustainability Report, total scheme expenses are projected to reach $34.3bn in FY23, blowing out to $88bn in 2031-32.

Shorten said NDIS had lost its way under the Coalition. “(W)e need to get it back on track,” he said. “Correcting course will not be easy. It will take time and require the kind of collective effort … showed during the campaign to fight for the NDIS in the first place.”

During the last nine years, the NDIS had been under constant attack from a revolving door of “disgraced disability ministers”.

“They betrayed people with disability by leaving the NDIS wide-open to fraud (see: Insurance Review 03/09/2020),” he said. “That’s why one of my greatest regrets is … the NDIS has been at the mercy of administrative vandals for 90% of its existence.

“The Coalition’s record of malign neglect is appalling … They muzzled the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) (and) stacked the NDIA board with political confederates.”

Labelling it “Robodebt 2.0”, Shorten also referred to the “independent assessments” reform the Coalition had “tried to bulldoze through” in 2019, while Stuart Robert was NDIS minister, which was dropped two years later under Linda Reynolds.

The fundamental systemic flaw identified by NDIS participants was that the system was too rigid with “Kafkaesque barriers” to access; it lacked empathy; had price gouging; was too complex and often traumatising to deal with.

Shorten said since the new government had been elected, it had worked on restoring NDIS, which had resulted in a culture shift breathing “new life into the NDIA”.

NDIS had been saving the hospital system in Victoria $550m by tackling the “warehousing” of NDIS participants in hospitals and reducing their waiting time to leave, after being medically ready, from 160 days to 29.

A fraud taskforce set up last October now had 38 investigations underway, involving more than $300m in payments.

The NDIS cases before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal had increased by 400 under the Coalition but 70% of the legacy cases parked in the court last May had now been resolved.

NDIS would further work on six policy directions to deliver better results, which had been endorsed by the NDIS board and the NDIA leadership.

The reforms included the increase of the NDIA workforce and to “sharpen its specialisation”. That meant lifting staff caps, returning some call centre functions in-house and “getting the culture right” to reduce staff churn.

NDIS would also move to long-term planning to free up time so participants who were permanently disabled did not have to prove every six months or every year they were still disabled.

Further, NDIS would tackle “spiralling expenses” from providers’ over-charging and return to the underlying goal of early intervention to reduce the need for support over time and increase participants’ independence in their daily living.

NDIS would also review supported independent living to enable people with higher needs to live in their homes.

The misuse of NDIS funds would be targetted. Shorten said untrustworthy providers who preyed on participants needed to be drummed out of business.

More staff would be needed to ensure providers delivered results and unethical practices were stamped out, such as pressuring participants to ask for services or support ratios they didn’t need; spending participants’ money contrary to their plans; asking for, or accepting, additional fees for a service; and offering rewards for taking particular services not on a participant’s plan.

He expected an independent panel, chaired by the inaugural NDIS chair and one of its key architects Professor Bruce Bonyhady and Lisa Paul, set up to report on the design, operations and sustainability of the scheme, would provide recommendations on ways to maximise the benefits of every NDIS dollar spent for participant – not providers.

Shorten said the sixth systemic reform was “fundamental”: NDIS needed to have increased community and mainstream supports. Existing mainstream services and facilities such as health, education and transport needed to be more accessible and supportive for people with a disability.

The states and territories also needed to “step up” and contribute more. “They can’t retreat from supporting people with disability outside the scheme and on the other hand have a diminishing contribution to the NDIS,” he said.

“States need to honour their commitment to their citizens with disability and provide them with high quality, inclusive healthcare, education, transport, housing, justice as is their responsibility,” Shorten said.