Tony Abbott’s Coalition government will not reverse the 65 year age limit imposed by Labor on Disability Care, continuing to restrict access to the landmark National Disability Insurance Scheme for thousands of older Australians.
Despite opposition from the lobby group, National Seniors Australia, the Coalition has opted to keep the controversial age cut-off for Disability Care introduced by the Rudd-Gillard government.
CEO of National Seniors Australia, Michael O’ Neill, said the 65 year age cut-off amounted to a “cruel lottery” that would prevent older Australians from accessing disability support services purely on the basis of their age.
“In its current form, a woman who is suddenly blind at the age 65 cut-off will be shunted into a user-pay aged care system that is ill-equipped to deal with disability unrelated to age.”
However, Mr O’Neill said if a 64-year-old person acquired the same disability they would qualify for the NDIS. “A woman who is suddenly blind at 64 will receive, under the NDIS, all the government-funded disability care and support she needs over her lifetime.”
Earlier this year the Productivity Commission said the cut-off age is designed to avoid duplication of services between the aged care system and the NDIS.
However, while the NDIS will fully cover the cost of all assistive equipment, resources and services, Australians with a disability aged 65 years and over will be required to pay means tested feesand charges to enter the aged care system.
The National Patron for Polio Australia, Dr John Tierney, said Australians suffering from Post Polio Syndrome would have a better chance under the NDIS than under any aged care package.
“We’re almost up to the 65th anniversary of the Salk vaccine, the vaccination that virtually wiped out Polio in Australia. But by 2020, when the NDIS is scheduled to be fully rolled out and implemented across the nation, over 400,000 Polio survivors will find themselves over 65 and locked out of the NDIS, just at the time when we will need it most.”
However, removing the cut-off at age 65 would blow out the NDIS budget by $1 billion by 2014, before the trial period is even completed. Despite this, a Galaxy Poll commissioned by Vision Australia earlier this year found that more than 80 per cent of people thought the cut-off at age 65 was unfair.
While only three per cent of respondents were actually aware that people over the age of 65 would be excluded from the NDIS.
Bradfield MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, said the NDIS is not designed to provide support for all Australians with a disability.
“On some measures there are over four million Australians with some form of disability. The NDIS will aim to provide an entitlement for aids, equipment, personal attendant care and other non-income supports to around 460,000 Australians with significant non-age related disabilities.”
The Coalition plans to lock in cross party support for the Disability scheme by expanding the responsibilities of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the NDIS over the course of three Parliaments. Mr Fletcher said that while in government the Coalition would be able to examine the experience of the NDIS, while stressing that the full implementation of the NDIS is still some way off.
“We see this joint Parliamentary Committee as having a role in examining the experience in launch sites, including eligibility issues, before progressing to full national roll out.”
“It is important to understand that full implementation of the NDIS is still some way off.”
CEO of the Macular Disease Foundation, Julie Heraghty said there are over 8,000 people, many over the age of 65, living with macular degeneration, vision loss or blindness in the Bradfield electorate.
“Cutting off access to the NDIS based on an arbitrary age cut off is not only unjust, but also it puts pressure on an aged care system that isn’t yet prepared to care for those with blindness or serious vision loss.”
Despite the agreement between Labor and the Coalition earlier this year to restrict access to the NDIS based on age, the former government and opposition both agreed that people under 65 that acquire a disability will be given a choice on their 65th birthday to either continue on the NDIS or transfer to the aged care system.
Under current plans the NDIS should cover all regions of Australia for the highest priority groups by 2015-16 and should progressively expand until the scheme covers all people by the end of 2018-19.