The March 2018 Quarterly Report has finally landed. It comes at a tumultuous time for the NDIA, with the countless scandals that seem to plague the Scheme increasingly finding their way into the mainstream media. The Agency would have undoubtedly been praying to the high heavens that this report would herald in some good news. Over the course of the 200-page report there is indeed some good news, some very bad news and enough statistics to satisfy your data needs for the next three months. We have leafed through it all and picked out the bits every provider needs to know.
The Good News
It's always good to start on a positive note. That way anyone so inclined can knock off early and feel breezy (not you Rob De Luca!). In the context of all the problems plaguing the Scheme, it is important to remember that there are some things that are going right. Namely:
- 84% of participants are still reporting their experience with the Agency has been ‘good’ or ‘very good.’
- 90% of carers for children aged 0-6 feel that the NDIS had been helpful in their child’s development.
- 72% of participants said that the NDIS helped them with daily living.
- And my personal favourite: 54% of participants over 25 said that the NDIS has helped them meet new people.
Complaints are undoubtedly the curly topic of this report. The NDIA received a record 4,146 complaints this quarter, which is considerably higher than previous quarters. Some of these complaints were about service providers, but the vast majority were about the Agency. Of these, 31% were about timeliness, 19% about individual needs, 8% about reasonable and necessary supports and 6% about unclear information. Since inception, the equivalent of 1 in every 10 participants has made a complaint. Undoubtedly, this demonstrates how disappointing the Scheme has been to many participants.
Plan utilisation statistics might not have the sex appeal of complaints and satisfaction rates, but it is an important, albeit under-discussed, indicator of the success of the Scheme. Low levels of plan utilisation can be indicative of market failure or participants struggling to navigate the system. The Productivity Commission estimates that plan utilisation should sit at around 80%-95%. Rates are supposed to increase as participants become more comfortable with the Scheme. While the report stresses that the picture for 2017-2018 is still emerging, utilisation rates are still problematically low at 59%, with only one quarter of the year left to go. The report does not dedicate a lot of ink to the issue, but it is an essential marker for us all to watch, as it may be the first indicator of a system under stress.
While we are on the fun topic of market failure, there is also a problematic picture emerging in the provider's space. This quarter, only 45% of registered providers were active. More disturbingly still, 7% of providers who were previously active did not receive a payment this quarter. Hopefully, they have all taken a 3 month vacation, because we can not afford for providers to be giving up on the NDIS.
Participants depend on a strong market to allow them to access the services they need and exercise choice and control. At the end of transition, it is predicted there will be 460,000 NDIS participants across the country. Right now, only 35% of them have entered the Scheme. As the rollout continues, we need a market strong enough to accommodate the next 298,000 people set to come.
One of the most interesting takeaways from this report is the significant changes in how participants are choosing to manage their funds. The rate of participants who are fully or partly managing their funds has grown from 19% to 22% this quarter. Plan management has undergone an even more dramatic jump this quarter with 21% of participants selecting this method, compared to 14% in previous quarters. Currently, only 64% of participants are Agency managed, with the number significantly decreasing. If this trend continues, it could have remarkable implications for new providers debating whether or not to register. More importantly, it demonstrates that NDIS participants are electing to have more choice and control over how they use their funds.
The bilateral estimates represent the expected number of people with approved NDIS plans at particular points of time. Currently, only 78% of the bilateral estimates for this quarter have been met, so there are fewer people in the Scheme than anticipated. This paints a troubling and confusing picture. There are two potential reasons for the variation: either there have been delays in the transition schedule or the bilateral estimates are an inaccurate representation of how many people will actually be entering the Scheme. The report argues that it is the latter. The bilateral estimates are based on the number of clients in selected State and Territory disability programs prior to the NDIS. As of this quarter, as many as 16,005 former State and Territory clients have been found ineligible for the Scheme, could not be reached, or did not want to enter the Scheme. Therefore, there are obviously significant difference between the NDIS and former State and Territory programs that challenge the accuracy of the estimates. As a side issue- this raises significant concerns about what will happen to people in the programs when they draw to an end.
However, even with some inaccuracies in the bilateral estimates being taken into account, there are still undoubtedly delays in the transition rollout. Nearly 29,000 participants who have been confirmed into the Scheme are still waiting for plans. While the Agency might want to avoid talking about the rollout schedule and delays, it is becoming increasingly evident that the speed of the rollout is becoming a problem.
To finish it off, here are some fun(ish) facts from the report:
- The number of participants with support coordination in their plans was 41% this quarter, compared to 37% in previously.
- Participants are supported be 1.53 providers on average.
- The top 25% of providers are accounting for 80-90% of payments.
- Therapeutic supports has the highest number of registered providers.
- Autism and intellectual disabilities remain the two most common disabilities of participants with active plans, accounting for 29% of participants each.
- 5.1% of participants are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
In this article, we have endeavored to explore the key takeaways from the report that every provider needs to get their head around. However, there are undoubtedly many more pieces of information that you and your organisation specifically need to know. With state-by-state information, quarterly reports can help you learn where your clientele group fits into the wider picture of the NDIS and what participants are generally receiving funding for. The collected baseline data can also help providers understand what participants and carers are hoping to get out of the NDIS. For example, this quarter 73% of participants over 25 indicated that they want more choice and control over their lives. Further, many family members reported wanting to be able to work more than they currently can. Any provider who helps meet these and the many other listed needs will undoubtedly become a vital part of that participant's life. Sometimes, the secret is in the numbers. You just need to take the time to hear what they are trying to tell you.
Take a look and see what you find: www.ndis.gov.au/medias/documents/report-q3-y5-pdf/Report-to-the-COAG-Disability-Reform-Council-for-Q3-of-Y5.pdf