21 November 2016

A major global third-party company is talking to the $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme to move into the market and take pressure off the rapidly expanding program by assuming control of individual support packages on behalf of people with disability.

The NDIS agency has been beset by woes with its payment system and, as revealed in The Australian, will miss plan approval estimates by almost 9000 by the end of the year.

Marc Fenton, the president of Public Partnerships in the US, has watched the scheme unfold since trials began in 2013 and said his experience working with individual-controlled funding in America underscores the breathtaking complexity of what must come from the agency.

It needs to add 430,000 people into a scheme totalling 460,000 in less than three years.

“If you look at the experience in America … we have been doing similar things since the mid-1990s and about one million people there manage their own health budgets. But it took a decade to get to one million people,” he told The Australian.

“What Australia is doing is something extraordinary: they are trying to do two things at once. That is federalising the entire system of disability services at the same time as devolving control to 460,000 people.”

As it stands now, the NDIS approves individual packages of support ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $200,000 a year for people with serious and profound disabilities. They are then given the right to spend that money on carers, providers and therapists of their choice.

While the intent of the scheme was for people to manage this money themselves, a tiny fraction of them currently do. The money is, in effect, held in escrow by the agency on behalf of its clients and paid to service providers.

Plan management is a step in between and it's the business in which Public Partnerships has become an expert.

“No country has done this (what the NDIS intends) anywhere in the world; their goals are right and good but it is very hard to do what they are doing,” Mr Fenton said.

He is a director of a joint enterprise in Australia called Integra Choice and Control, formed with disability employment service APM, and says plan management acts on behalf of the person to set up budgets, ensure carers are paid, deal with problems as they arise and more.

“The NDIS has an awful lot on its plate right now,” Mr Fenton said. “In many states (in America) the state agencies called us in to replace plan management they were doing because they just could not keep up with the growth. They can’t change things fast enough.

“We are always more efficient than government.”

A spokeswoman for the agency said the ability to use a plan manager is enshrined in the NDIS Act.

“As the NDIS transitions to full scheme over the next three years, the agency is exploring the best ways to maximise the opportunities for participants to self-direct (funds),” she said.

The Australian
Rick Morton
Social Affairs reporter
Melbourne

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