As many commentators have already said, this year’s Federal Budget is unusual. More than a month early, it marks the beginning of an election campaign, rather than setting out a national economic plan, with the Federal Election 2019 date to be announced shortly.
For people living with MS, there is the usual mixed bag of sweet and sour notes, though it’s hard to see among the former any significant transformational measures.
SWEETER/SOUR NOTES FROM THE GOVERNMENT
The sweeter include:
Energy Assistance Payment
A one-off Energy Assistance Payment ($75 for singles/ $125 for couples), delivered to aged pensioners, people on the Disability Support Pension, veterans, carers and single parents before July 2019. In a last minute, post-budget announcement this payment will also be made to those on Newstart. People with MS can find it hard to keep cool and often need to run their air conditioners (and sometimes heating) at a much higher level than the average household, so this news is welcome, though won’t be much help long-term, beyond this one-off payment.
Services for carers
An extra $84.3 million on services for Australia’s 2.7 million carers is welcome, with an emphasis on young carers to include new educational resources, peer support and phone-based counselling, and up to $3,000 towards planned respite, education and training.
A recommitment to previous pledges on affordable housing, setting aside $1.7 billion+ towards state community housing projects in Budget 2019 is welcome, though disappointingly few new policies announced to address this pressing issue.
Funding for the newest Royal Commission
A commitment of around $500 million for the new Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has been welcomed by many peak bodies representing people living with disability, including MS Australia. Further details were made today (5/4/19) in an emotional announcement by the Prime Minister in reference to his brother-in-law Gary who lives with MS.
The centrepiece is an extra 10,000 home care packages to help older people remain at home rather than enter aged care facilities, though with over 120,000 older Australians waiting for packages, it’s hard to see how this will make a significant difference. In our 2019 Election Commitments package, MS Australia backed the Council on The Ageing (COTA) push for an additional 30,000 packages, calculated to reduce waiting lists to no more than 3 months.
A $320m general subsidy boost was announced for residential aged care, which would create 13,500 new residential places.
A myriad of health measures, many previously announced, which may be of interest to people living with MS, but unlikely to make a significant impact, such as:
- Increased Medicare rebates for all diagnostic radiology and ultrasounds ($198.6 m); 50 new Medicare eligible MRI units ($375 m)
- Private health-related initiatives include a national strategy to tackle excessive out-of-pocket costs charged by medical specialists with stage 1 commencing with a website that will publish information about fees and an education initiative ($7.2 m) and a private health insurance reforms information campaign ($5 m)
The sour notes include:
No increase to Newstart
Again, there is no increase in Newstart which is disappointing for those struggling on this payment, especially for those living with MS with a disability who have been moved off the Disability Support Pension to Newstart.
Private health insurance
A recently announced sour note in the health arena, is for those people living with MS using natural medicines and treatments such as naturopathy, yoga and Pilates. From 1 April 2019, anyone claiming a private health insurance rebate for these services, will no longer be able to do so. The Federal Government has drawn up a list of natural therapies private health insurers are now “prohibited” from funding because the treatments are deemed to be lacking in scientific evidence.
The Federal Government recently announced a long-awaited increase in NDIS-funded therapy, attendant care and community participation prices. This was welcome news for our MS organisations providing services to people living with MS and other neurological conditions.
On a sour note, the actual underspend on the NDIS this financial year is unclear. However, the slower than expected transition of participants into the NDIS, especially those getting plans activated, will see the Commonwealth’s net contribution to the NDIS being $1.6 billion less next year.
Whilst the Government claims funding for the NDIS "has been secured", the Budget confirms that there will be an underspend of $1.6 billion in 2019-20 due to a slower-than-anticipated rollout, and that money previously put aside will instead be used for things like improving the budget bottom line and a new emergency disaster response fund.
MS Australia and other peak body advocates argue this money should not be spent on other purposes when there are urgent needs for disability care and, as sought in MS Australia’s 2019 Election Commitments, for NDIS implementation issues to be addressed.
The Opposition’s Budget reply
A couple of highlights from the Opposition’s Budget Reply last night (Thursday 4/4/19) that will be of interest to the MS community:
- A welcome focus on health including funding for medical research, though no announcements specific to MS.
- A pledge to remove the staffing cap from the National Disability Insurance Agency, which we hope will go some way to addressing the NDIS implementation issues.
- A disappointing announcement that Labor will conduct a review of Newstart, rather than a pledge for an increase.
To see MS Australia’s full 2019 Election Commitments package and our Make our Stories Matter campaign, please visit: