In writing this week’s blog I can’t help but look ahead to next week when the Federal Government will deliver the Federal Budget 2014-15.
There has been much conjecture in recent weeks about what the budget will include and regardless of what does lie ahead it is fair to say that there will be reform proposed and there will be cuts made across a number of sectors.
MS Australia has been keeping abreast of these issues as we approach budget day and there are some definite things to look for.
The first is discussion about slowing the rollout of the NDIS. Treasurer Joe Hockey as well as senior bureaucrats have eluded to the fact that the current timeframe to deliver the NDIS is not feasible. This has peaked the interest of many commentators and members of the disability sector who have highlighted that not only is the NDIS affordable, the cost of the NDIS to the Government is minimal, as this graph from the Australian Financial Review demonstrates.
This provides a great sense of perspective on the NDIS amidst a lot of the cost debate and hopefully this issue has been put to bed. Last week we saw the most definitive response yet as all state premiers voted to continue the rollout as per the agreed timeframe and cost projections. On Wednesday, speaking at the Deafness Forum of Australia in Brisbane, Senator Mitch Fifield also said definitively that the NDIS would be delivered ‘come hell or high water’ which is fantastic news.
Disability Support Pension
Another key issue that has caused some concerns for members of the MS community is talk of reform to the Disability Support Pension specifically, the creation of a ‘tiered’ scheme.
In canvassing this issue, I have taken heart from Minister Kevin Andrew’s statement that “we want to help people to be able to stay in work wherever possible”.
That is a view we support. There are obvious benefits to people with MS being able to work for longer and recent research from MSRA suggests that people with MS who disclose their condition to their employer are able to stay in the workforce longer. Currently the fact 50% of people with MS are out of work within 10 years of diagnosis is something we have to address and we welcome measures that assist people to stay at work.
However we are concerned about the plan to move towards a tiered system. Minister Andrew’s has described this system would mean “younger people, say under the age of 30, 35” would be subjected to medical “reassessments” with doctors to determine if they are still suitable for disability support.
These reassessments are not likely to be suitable for people with MS who need expert medical care from the point of diagnosis including meetings with specialists like neurologists. Furthermore many people diagnosed with MS will have an intermittent need for medical care and income support and this may not reflect well in ‘reassessments’.
MS Australia has made a commitment to discuss this issue further with Minister Andrews and other parliamentarians and I look forward to updating you on these discussions in the weeks ahead.
National Commission of Audit
In the lead up to the budget we have also seen the release of the Audit Commission Report which has suggested some wide-sweeping reform in order to limit future costs to the Government.
There are a number of health care issues that stand out but the most relevant to people with MS will include:
- A $15 co-payment for all Medicare services including GP visits and pathology tests
- The establishment of a ‘PBS Entity’ as an independent agency to oversee the management of subsidised pharmaceuticals in Australia. Part of this will also include a recommendation to afford the Minister for Health the flexibility to have new items listed on the PBS by tabling a legislative instrument in Parliament.
- A proposal to slow the rollout of the NDIS which I have already touched on, and
- The introduction of hospital emergency department charges and increased costs for medicines
We will endeavour to keep a close eye on these issues and raise them during future advocacy discussions with parliamentarians and decision makers.
We will also keep an eye out for them in the budget and respond if necessary.
On another note, I had the opportunity to travel to Geelong this week to meet with David Bowen the CEO of the National Disability Insurance Agency.
The NDIA is working incredibly hard to keep pace with the required rollout of the NDIS and they are facing a number of challenges such as obtaining robust data about how people are interacting with the scheme thus far.
However I found David very knowledgeable and he didn’t shirk away from any difficult conversation.
I was particularly heartened by his understanding of MS and the complexity of needs of people living with MS and the need to manage them through in the health system, the disability sector and aged care depending on their personal situation.
Meeting David followed a recent discussion I had with Catherine King, the Shadow Health Minister in Ballarat.
I have thoroughly enjoyed these opportunities and with more planned am pleased that we are making headway in building relationships and having a voice at the table of discussions.