Backlash intensifies over ‘independent assessments’ of disability plan | National invalidity insurance scheme

The Morrison government is facing a growing backlash from the disability community over a plan to introduce “independent assessments” into the national disability insurance system by mid-year.

Under the current process, applicants submit evidence from experts, including their specialists, and these reports are assessed by the National Invalidity Insurance Agency.

From mid-2021, they will undergo an “independent assessment” by a paramedical health professional employed by one of eight contracted providers paid by the government.

The changes triggered widespread backlash, including a coalition of 25 disability advocacy groups who this week called for the plan to be abandoned.

They said their clients had expressed “acute fears about the risks to their health, well-being and access to reasonable and necessary supports.”

Labor, Greens and Liberal MP Russell Broadbent have also suggested the change is a cost-cutting exercise, a claim strongly denied by the government.

The government maintains that people with disabilities and their families are now forced to spend money to collect expert reports. This means that the results have been inconsistent and too often based on a person’s place of residence or their access to healthcare professionals.

This week NDIS Minister Stuart Robert released data showing plans were worth more on average in the wealthiest electorates of Adelaide, compared to less wealthy regions.

The government says the assessments – which will be free and last about three hours on average – will create a simpler and “streamlined” process.

Yet some people who have been involved in an independent evaluation have been very critical of the plan.

Aaron Carpenter, a 41-year-old man who lives with autism and has agreed to participate in the pilot program, told The Guardian the experience was “dehumanizing”.

When he applied to the program, Carpenter’s clinical psychologist wrote a report outlining the functional impact of his disability.

He asked why his independent assessment had instead been conducted by a physiotherapist.

Carpenter said he was asked many “yes or no” questions without “context” and was asked at one point to complete a “task”, which involved making a cup of tea.

NDIA told attendees that assessments include questions “about your life and what matters to you, and ask how you approach certain daily tasks,” and will also include “standardized assessment tools.”

Carpenter said, “There is a level of trauma that comes with the disability and that’s because you make it become like a dancing monkey.

“We almost have to tell our story every time we see someone. Doing this with a complete stranger, in an hour or two, can’t capture us at all. “

After the assessment was completed, Carpenter requested a copy of the independent assessor’s report from NDIA.

He was appalled when he saw that a section titled “Self-Injury” was listed as “Not Applicable”.

“When I have a bit of a sensory collapse, it’s not pleasant,” he said. “I’m going to hit things, I’m going to hit myself, I’m going to take my clothes off.”

“My biggest handicap is probably being able to handle sensory input to the point where I don’t have a collapse. “

Nicole Rogerson’s 25-year-old son Jack also lives with autism and participated in the pilot.

Rogerson, managing director of Autism Awareness Australia, told Guardian Australia she was “open-minded” and understood why the agency proposed the changes.

But she was so dissatisfied with the process that she cut her son’s assessment short.

“It’s just sort of, sit down, the laptop comes out, a questionbook comes out, and the testing begins,” she said.

“Some of the questions were about his abilities in certain areas. And he was setting there saying, “Oh, yeah, I can do a lot of things. It was, “Do you do all your cooking? and he was like, “Oh, yeah, I can cook.” There is a big difference between knowing if you can cook something and “Can you live independently?” “

“He was answering incorrectly, unintentionally. And she writes it down. My concern was to know what is the quality of these evaluators? Do they know about autism and / or intellectual disability? Will these answers be considered “the answers”? “

Rogerson said her son was asked to take out the trash during the assessment and eventually got to see him “starting to feel really depressed.”

She was concerned about the impact of the assessments on the mental health of some participants.

“She asks him, ‘How does your disability affect your job? And he said, ‘Oh, no, I have a job. I’m fine.’

“And he looks at me like, why is this woman asking him to rate his own disability, which he doesn’t really like to talk about or think he has.”

Last week NDIA appointed the eight private providers who will carry out the assessments.

A spokesperson for NDIA said providers were recruited through open competition and participants would be “matched with a therapist or clinician with the necessary skills, experience and training. to carry out the evaluation ”.

“All assessors will be qualified to administer the assessment tools,” he said.

Critics have compared the independent assessments to the Abbott government’s reforms introduced for the disability pension, which have helped drastically reduce the number of accepted claims.

Jordon Steele-John, a Green Senator who lives with cerebral palsy, said the government was using the assessments as “a tool to reduce the number of people on NDIS.”

“This is their goal,” he told The Guardian. “They can dress it up in whatever bureaucratic language they want, but they want to take people out of the scheme.”

NDIS Labor spokesman Bill Shorten told a rally last month that the government’s independent assessment plan was “nothing less than a total and comprehensive assault to undermine NDIS”.

A spokesperson for Robert said the changes were based on the Productivity Commission’s original program design and recommendations from the 2019 Tune review in the NDIS Act.

He rejected suggestions that there had been no consultation, adding that over the past three months there had been “additional consultation to support the rollout of independent evaluations.”

“These reforms, in addition to the already significant improvements in wait times, respect this roadmap and will put NDIS in place for the future – an NDIS that works for everyone,” he said.

All new applicants will have to undergo a mandatory independent assessment as part of the government’s plan, while the existing 440,400 participants in the program will undergo an assessment when their plan is reviewed.

The government is expected to release a bill shortly, before a bill is presented to parliament that will allow the changes to take effect by mid-2021.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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