I have been reflecting on the NDIS, both the challenges and the opportunities that we as providers and participants face. I know that it is understated to say that this is significant reform, I think that it has been said that it is a once in a generation reform, yes it is that big. I think we forget that change is difficult particularly when it is on the scale of the NDIS.
I am not really sure that I can remember the introduction of Medibank/Medicare. Medibank started on 1 July 1975. In nine months, the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) had increased its staff from 22 to 3500, opened 81 offices, installed 31 minicomputers, 633 terminals and 10 medium-sized computers linked by land-lines and issued registered health insurance cards to 90% of the Australian population. Yes, I guess one could say that was very big reform. Did it go smoothly? I would think not. Were people happy and satisfied with the initiative? I would think not.
The original Medibank scheme was to be financed by a 1.35% levy (with low income exemptions) but the bills were rejected by the Senate and so Medibank was originally funded from general revenue. Medicare is presently nominally funded by an income tax surcharge. Is everyone happy to support the funding of Medicare? I would think there will always be individuals who struggle with how their tax dollars are spent.
Why am I reflecting on the Medibank/Medicare journey? I guess it is important to recognise that many in the community cannot remember Australia without universal health care and indeed there are many that will remember the angst that such reform brought. Our universal health care, despite issues, remains one of the cornerstones of our social structure. Irrespective of gender, race, age or infirmity each Australian can access top quality health care services. As a community we have come to expect and accept this as a right. Today, do we remember the drama, the angst, the difficulties of implementation? I would think not.
So, along comes the NDIS, funded by an increase in our Medicare levy. Is everyone happy about that? I would think not. The rollout, has it been smooth? I have to say definitely not. Are providers and participants struggling in the new consumer driven market? I would have to say absolutely. However, at the centre of the angst, the stress, the frustration we have a piece of legislation that should and will make a fundamental difference to individuals and indeed to Australian society. Yes, it is that big.
I could focus on the challenges that the NDIS offers, however I want to rejoice in the fact that lives are being changed because of it. I want to celebrate that the NDIS will force the community to be more accepting of people with disabilities, to make space and place for individuals that for too long have sat on the peripheries of our communities. I want to believe that in five, ten, fifteen years that we won’t remember the difficulties, the dramas and the problems that we experienced during implementation. I want to believe that we will view the NDIS in the same way that we do universal health care as an expected and accepted right for those that have a disability.
So, take a breath people. Jump on the train it has left the station. Feel the movement as the train sways a little as it takes the bends. Believe that the journey is as important as the destination. Talk to the other passengers on the journey there is much we can learn from one another. Thank the drivers and the conductors because without them there would be no journey. Above all enjoy the ride with the knowledge that where we are headed is indeed better than from where we started.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to the NDIA and the LACs. I think we sometimes forget to thank you for driving this forward in a constantly changing environment. Good job!