It can be an amazing moment when you finally receive your NDIS package. Depending on your choices and the system you are switching from (or perhaps you’ve previously had no support at all), being funded under a National Disability Insurance Scheme package of supports can be a liberating moment where for the first time in a long time, you not only have a say, you have the say in what your life looks like and how you will be supported.
Unfortunately, the hope and promise of the NDIS has so far found the cold realities of government management a rather challenging place. In the last year we have seen:
With all these misdeeds, mismanagement and calamities, it’s fair to say the community of NDIS participants, carers and care professionals are over all a resilient bunch to weather all this and still carry on with the scheme. Yet in all of that, or maybe because of it, we are a community that seeks to be fair, to not take more than is needed.
That is why it is so disappointing to hear when people report that the National Disability Insurance Agency is looking at historic spending when it comes to plan reviews. Making decisions about future funding based on historic spending goes against the goals-based empowerment at the core of the NDIS (though obviously, not the first time the NDIA has done this). It looks backwards at what was instead of forwards at what could be and to that end it is a regressive and disempowering approach from the agency charged with stewarding the NDIS rollout.
Beyond the immediate impacts, it also leads to one very obvious incentive – you are probably going to be better off if you spend your whole package.
This doesn’t just mean better off today, it also means better off tomorrow. Because if the NDIA continues to look at past spending in plan reviews, your choice to be frugal could cost you later down the line when you do need those funds.
This is a classic challenge of government budgeting, particularly in the care sector. In government agencies it is common to set budgets based on historic spending and further to claw back any excess cash at the end of the budget. This motivates civil service managers to spend, spend, spend or risk a smaller budget in the next period.*
It seems that the NDIA may be intent on bringing this same practice to it’s relationships with NDIS participants. So it is with sadness that we do have to concede that yes, you will probably be better off now and in the future if you make sure you do spend all of your package.
This is not the position any of us want to be in. Really we’d all prefer a fair go and the plans based on goals that were originally promised. However, if this is the way the NDIA is going to run the NDIS, then we can at least make the most of it. If you are finding your provider is unable to meet all of your demand to ensure you use your full plan, you can take the opportunity to try out other providers in your area.
For example, if you normally get your services from a one stop shop provider – say you get OT and Speech Pathology from the same provider. You may find that one or both of these services are booked out and unable to provide you with all the supports you have available in your plan before it finishes. In this case, you may look and find another local Speech Pathologist who can provide that therapy and give them a go. This would give you a chance to see what another provider has to offer, giving you more choices if say your primary provider is sick, closes their practice or becomes too expensive.
If your plan includes consumables that have a decent shelf life, that is aids or continence pads and things that can last a few months or more, then you may find it useful to stock up. If you are behind on this part of your plan then it can be one easy way to catch up and keep your spend in line with your plan. It seems government managers (the people your NDIS planners answer to) generally find it easier to shift budgets that stay overall the same than to advocate for an increase after a decrease. So if you find your plan has over allocated consumables, you may be better positioned to get the money shifted to the things you really do need if you spend all your consumables budget and get it reallocated in your next plan.
While it is disappointing that the NDIA is reputedly looking to your past to define the future of your NDIS plan, we could choose to wallow in dismay, but that isn’t who we are. So yet again, we’ll make the best we can of this situation and hope that one day the NDIA will grow up to become an Agency that can truly fulfil the promise of the NDIS – dare to dream!
*Full disclosure: One of CareNavigator’s founders designed the outcomes-based commissioning framework for an Australian health system where this historic approach to public sector budgeting and incentivised mismanagement was a direct obstacle to overcome in the system design – we’ve lived this budgeting nightmare first hand.