Professor Bruce Bonyhady, one of the key architects of the NDIS, told the parliamentary inquiry last month he totally opposed the independent assessments, which he said were driven by cost-cutting and would “fundamentally damage the NDIS”.
But Mr Hoffman said NDIS participants currently needed to “explain and justify” to a stranger every aspect of their life and activities to show why the NDIS funding was required.
“A process of explaining and justifying, if not begging and bargaining. That’s not choice and control, that’s not dignity,” Mr Hoffman said.
“The NDIS was never meant to be about public servants making hundreds of decisions about the life and supports of participants. But that is where we are.”
Mr Hoffman said this had led to the significant growth in the cost of the NDIS over the past few years. “Line by line decision-making risks the financial sustainability of the scheme.”
Mr Hoffman said the scheme needed to return to the original concept of the NDIS.
This involved participants being able to decide how to use the funding and how much support worker time, therapy, or group classes they needed.
“And yes – that will involve trade-offs and choices,” Mr Hoffman said. “The funding amount is not unlimited or open-ended, and can’t be. But they are [the participant’s] trade-offs and choices, with support if needed, not my staff’s.”
He said independent assessments, where every individual was assessed on the same basis rather than reports from their treating specialists, were necessary to obtain a “consistent, standard and unbiased set of information” on which to make a fair decision.
Mr Hoffman said this was because when a medical specialist had an ongoing treating relationship with a person with a disability there was the potential they would identify with them and want the best possible outcome for them.
“Where that involves a financial decision the practice around the world for many decades has been to use a form of independent assessment.”
But Mr Hoffman denied independent assessments were about taking funds away from participants.
He said the agency had been flagging for 15 months that the growth in funding per participant was at a level that was not sustainable if it continued at that rate.
“But concern about the rate of growth of the scheme in the long term is a very different thing to saying we are trying to cut individual packages.”
Asked if the independent assessments could be appealed, Mr Hoffman said the funding decision made by the agency on the basis of the independent assessment would be appealable.
The scheme had planned to begin mandatory assessments by the middle of the year. However, the new NDIS minister, Senator Linda Reynolds, last month paused the rollout, saying she would closely assess the independent trial outcomes before introducing legislation.
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