NDIS met with disappointment, despite opportunity for economic and employment growth

In July, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) celebrated its one-year anniversary. While the scheme has been faced with its challenges and setbacks, it has also been a year full of opportunity for many disability service providers.

Publicised as the largest public policy reform in Australia since Medicare, the NDIS provides people with a disability with better access to customised care, support, therapy and equipment – in turn improving their prospects for independence and inclusion.

The biggest change to the scheme, compared to the current funding model, is a move away from block Government funding. Up until now, the Government has provided funding to eligible disability service providers, who then offer a range of services to those living with a disability. The NDIS funding system differs in that, now, eligible participants are provided with an individualised plan that permits them to choose and control where funding is allocated on essential goods and services.

Trials for the scheme were completed mid-2016, and the NDIS is being progressively introduced across the country over the next few years.

Once completely rolled out, the NDIS will no doubt create significant benefits to the larger community. While it has been met with apprehension and disappointment, like anything new, it will take time to iron out the flaws and refine it so that all Australians can benefit from the program.

Even though the introduction of the NDIS will double the Government funding for disability support, from $6 billion to $12 billion, it has not been met entirely with enthusiasm by those working in the disability services sector. Aside from ongoing issues with the NDIS web portal, and a lack of support workers, many argue that the pricing model doesn’t adequately cover the costs associated with disability support services. More than 60% of disability service providers are concerned that they will not be able to provide services at the prices being offered under the NDIS, and will have to compromise their quality of service to those in need, in order to align it with the actual cost of supply.

While the primary goal of the NDIS is to provide greater choice and control to the client, the individualised funding model as a whole, might not necessarily benefit everybody involved.

Disability service providers who want to stay ahead in a competitive market will have to invest more money into administrative and marketing costs in order to attract more people to their service. In addition, they will be required to shift their business models and reorganize the way in which they do business, so that they can meet consumer demands, and turnover a greater profit.

For private disability service providers, this new funding model could be potentially lucrative, particularly for large profit-making organisations, such as Aged Care facilities. These are well placed to capitalise on the NDIS, because they already have the framework in place to enter the disability sector.

A business model orientated towards making profit is likely to significantly impact on non-profit disability services. These charitable organisations already struggle to maintain a high quality of service when competing with large conglomerates, and are likely to find themselves faced with a number of shortcomings, including increased costs associated with purchase of software and databases, tougher regulations and financial reporting requirements, and high staff turnover due to it being a low-paying sector, in general. They will also need to invest capital into training staff, so they may understand the nature of cost management and pricing, and be able to respond more accurately and efficiently to new demands related to the NDIS funding model.

It is not only Disability Service Providers who feel disadvantaged by the NDIS, carers too are describing the scheme as confusing, complex and stressful, with only a quarter of carers feeling prepared for the NDIS.

Many that take on the role of carer do so in an unpaid capacity and must undertake paid employment in order to make ends meet. Lack of flexible work options makes it difficult to meet everyday costs, or to find the time to undertake further education, training, or to pursue personal goals. While the NDIS is anticipated to relieve the pressure on unpaid carers, respite services are not automatically included in the NDIS package, and many carers are unaware of their entitlements under the scheme.

Not all is doom and gloom, though, as the NDIS has also proven beneficial to many. For example, more than 12,000 people with a disability will be able to search for work once they have an NDIS package. Carers will also be provided with better assistance in the home, in turn helping them to return to the workforce. The NDIS provides many opportunities for employment and economic growth for Australia, and will reduce the chances of those living with a disability, their families and carers, of falling through the cracks. It will provide the support needed to allow thousands of Australians living with a disability to lead a more rewarding and fulfilling life.

In addition, due to an increasing number of disability service workers undertaking training in cost management and pricing, the data obtained will be of a higher caliber, than before, enabling them to make more accurate predictions with future price setting.

In order to achieve the primary goal of NDIS, a collaboration between those living with a disability, families and carers, disability service providers and Government bodies is required. The focus needs to be on disability service providers offering a transparent, top quality service that is geared towards providing more opportunity and support, and assisting participants to become as independent as possible.