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MS Australia responds to 2016 Budget

4 May 2016

Last night’s Budget presented us with some matters of concern for people living with MS in Australia. In addition to this there were a number of measures which will require further analysis and explanation before we are able to fully understand the impact they will have.

More than 23,000 people are living with MS in Australia. It is the most common neurological condition affecting young adults. The condition is unpredictable so while one day someone can be fine, the next they may not be able to see properly or move. A diagnosis can have a serious impact in the prime of a person’s life, at a time when they are often planning families and careers. That’s why Government policy is so important.

On behalf of people with MS the messages we send to the Commonwealth are:

  • While we welcome the Government’s overarching commitment to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) into the future, we would like to see this funding identified for years beyond the roll out period. We, along with other organisations such as PWDA, reject the budget measures that link a fully funded NDIS with the need to cut welfare spending. If there is to be a savings fund, it should not be a device to make savings, and poor trade-offs between programs and services supporting and sustaining vulnerable members of our community.
  • The budget revealed that over the next three years, up to 90,000 current Disability Support Pension (DSP) recipients will have their DSP eligibility reviewed to assess their capacity to work. While this may benefit some people, in the absence of jobs, cutting people off the DSP and placing them on Newstart puts people who aren’t able to work at risk of spiralling into crisis and in greater need of the kind of specialist disability supports the NDIS provides.
  • We are concerned about people with MS facing out of pocket costs for frontline doctor care and medicines as the Government announced it will extract another $925 million by freezing Medicare rebates over the next three years, on top of the $1.3 billion already removed in previous years, increasing the pressure on GPs to drop bulk billing and charge gap fees. The vote of a future Senate could also mean a range of fresh out of pocket costs, including a $5 rise in the co-payment for prescribed medicines and cutting of the $630 million in bulk billing incentives to pathologists and radiologists. These measures will discourage the sort of reform we need to support a primary health care system that would improve care for those with chronic and complex conditions such as MS. In addition to this there is a worrying number of people with MS who aren’t having their needs met through the current health system. We would have liked to see the Government address the need for funding a 21st century primary health system that will provide people with the integrated care they need through a single healthcare destination--- and reduce demand for expensive hospital treatment.
  • Finally, we are concerned about the budget measures in relation to the aged care sector as this will put a strain on MS organisations’ service teams in supporting people with MS who are 65 or over and need to use the age care sector for support.  The aged care funding packages are insufficient for many people now and there is no proposed growth funding for this sector. Over the next four years, savings of $1.2 billion will be made by revising the Aged Care Funding Instrument which determines the level of funding paid to aged care providers. However, to meet increased demand, $136.6 million will be provided over that period to support the operation of the My Aged Care contact centre.  We will need to keep a close eye on just how these contact centres work and if they provide a benefit to people over 65 with MS.

We will continue to assess the impact of these and other budget measures on the MS community throughout the election campaign.