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Government considers disability insurance scheme

Madeleine Genner reported this story on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 12:39:00

ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Government is considering introducing a Medicare-style insurance scheme
for Australians with serious disabilities.

At the National Disability Awards ceremony in Canberra last night, the Prime Minister announced
that the Productivity Commission would investigate a replacement for the existing system of
disability services.

One of the options is a no-fault insurance scheme which would provide lifetime care for people with
disabilities.

Disability groups welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement, saying disability services in
Australia are a lottery and that thousands of families don't receive adequate support.

Madeleine Genner has our report.

MADELEINE GENNER: In the 1980s the Federal Government introduced compulsory superannuation.

It was introduced in an attempt to reduce the burden an ageing population would place on taxpayers
in the years to come.

Now an ageing population is leading to an increase in the number of Australians with disabilities.

BILL SHORTEN: The population is growing very fast, people with disabilities. There is 1.5 million
Australians at the moment. By 2030 it will 2.3 million.

MADELEINE GENNER: The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Bill Shorten, speaking on Radio
National Breakfast this morning.

BILL SHORTEN: The demand for services is growing quicker than the things which we are already doing
can keep pace with. Something has got to give. When parents are born with a child who has a
diagnosis for serious impairment, it is a very isolating experience. The service system is patchy.

At the other end of the age cycle, when you have got an aging parent with an adult child with
severe disabilities, they are awake every night with the anxiety of what happens in the event they
predecease their child.

MADELEINE GENNER: Last night, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Productivity
Commission would look into the feasibility of a national disability insurance scheme.

The goal of the scheme would be to provide lifetime care for the disabled, relieving pressure from
families and charities. It would be funded by a levy across the population similar to Medicare.

Ken Baker is the chief executive of National Disability Services which represents more than 640
not-for-profit organisations.

He says a national disability insurance scheme is long overdue.

KEN BAKER: At present it's a source of enormous anxiety and frustration to families, people with
disability and to service providers that the current level of demand for services is not being met
and essentially the system at present is a lottery. Some people get ample support services but many
get less than they need or nothing at all.

MADELEINE GENNER: Ken Baker says that the amount of support available can often depend on how a
person becomes disabled.

In some states, if you are disabled as a result of a car accident there's a no fault insurance
scheme paid for through compulsory third party insurance.

But if it's not a car accident help can be hard to find.

KEN BAKER: Well, I think at present there is probably a lack of awareness in the community about
just how uncertain the current system is.

I don't think Australians recognise what a gaping hole there is within our social safety net. You
know, if you have a serious illness then you have an entitlement to medical treatment.

Whatever problems there are in the hospital system, you at least have that basic guarantee and
entitlement. But many Australians wouldn't be aware that if you acquire a disability or you are
born with a disability or have a child with a disability then there is no entitlement.

MADELEINE GENNER: Bruce Bonyhady is a member of the Federal Government's Disability Investment
Group.

The group was set up last year to look at innovative funding ideas for the disability sector.

In its final report the group recommended the Government look at a disability insurance scheme. But
any insurance scheme would come at a cost to the taxpayer.

Bruce Bonyhady says he believes Australians would support the scheme.

BRUCE BONYHADY: I think one of the remarkable things is that as I have talked to people around the
country about this idea, just how prepared people are to say look, I think this is not just
something for me but it could be something that my children would need or my grandchildren would
need and you know, I think I would be prepared to pay for that because it is a safety net that is
important to everyone.

MADELEINE GENNER: The Productivity Commission will report to the Federal Government by July 2011.

ELEANOR HALL: Madeleine Genner reporting.