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(Australia) Kids with ASD now more than half of those on nat'l health insurance

Jan 30, 2024, Financial Review: Fears NDIS alternatives won’t be enough to stop scheme growth

Autism advocates say schools are unlikely to be able to quickly create a meaningful alternative to the National Disability Insurance Scheme for affected children, raising doubts over central reforms to stop costs hitting $125 billion [$824M] in a decade.

“What worries me is that the school system isn’t ready to cater for these kids,” said the founder of Autism Awareness Australia, Nicole Rogerson.

 “It’s probably going to mean for school-aged children that education systems are going to bear the brunt of supporting kids with disability, and I know that for a lot of them that I’ve been talking to, they’re very nervous.

“These big bureaucratic school systems move slowly, they are not agile, and there are so many competing stakeholders. Teachers already have so many demands.”…

 “State and territory governments must ensure the NDIS Review recommendations are delivered in full: all slated foundational supports must be funded, and state and territory governments can’t cherry-pick what foundational supports they fund.”…

More than 313,000 NDIS participants are under the age of 18, accounting for more than half the scheme’s population and a fifth of its costs. About 55 per cent of these children have been diagnosed with autism, and around 20 per cent with developmental delay.

Independent actuary Anthony Lowe said the reforms would require substantial legislative change, co-design with people with disability, and financial investment over the next five years of transition.

 “This includes investment in infrastructure, including IT, and a rapid growth in the disability workforce that will be challenging, and which may slow the pace of change. Thus, there is a significant risk of above expected growth in NDIS costs,” Dr Lowe said.

National cabinet is relying on better management of the scheme, a reformed assessment process and switching kids out of the NDIS and into educational and other community supports to reduce baseline costs by $30 billion a year by 2034.

Australian Government Actuary Guy Thorburn has cautioned this gap could be even higher, after a 22 per cent higher than expected increase in new participants in 2022-23.
These were mostly from children under 14 with developmental delay or autism.

He said the risk was on the upside for the baseline projection that pointed to the scheme doubling in size and the risk of reforms savings being drowned out by the surge in children continuing to enter the scheme.

The federal government announced on Tuesday that Social Services minister Amanda Rishworth will be responsible for developing a plan with the states and disability groups to create an alternative for NDIS participants.

Working with Disability minister Bill Shorten, she has been allocated $11.6 million[$7.6M] to develop and implement a foundation supports strategy over the next two years. She will report back to national cabinet later this year….

The NDIS is strongly backed in community polling, and the federal opposition has been wary of not supporting the scheme.

“It would be unconscionable for the government to remove children with autism and developmental delay from the NDIS without adequate alternative supports, and I have no confidence of the Labor government’s ability to establish these alternative supports in the promised time frame,” opposition disability spokesman Michael Sukkar said.

National cabinet in December agreed to a $10 billion [$6.6B] decade-long program to build alternative community based foundational supports for all disability groups.

The federal government last year also committed nearly $500 million [$328M] to improve the management of the NDIS, curtailing fraud and plan costs, and redesigning assessment procedures.

These are designed to cap annual costs at around $95 billion [$62B] in 2034, but Mr Thorburn noted these administrative reforms will not be enough to reach that target, pointing to a $10 billion [$6.6B] gap.

Once matured, the other savings from the NDIS review reforms are predicted to generate around $5 billion [$3.3B] in savings. This means there is already a $5 billion gap based on official NDIS actuarial forecasts, with Mr Thorburn warning this could be even larger given the higher than expected entries over the last financial year.


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