On 7 September 2020, NDIA announced a new functional capacity assessment process that will be active in due time. This is one of the many major changes announced this year by NDIA that will have an impact on how thousands of Australians with disability access the NDIS.
Functional capacity assessment measures the individual’s ability, to know how well one gets involved in life situations executing daily tasks or actions with and without assistance. Functional assessment reports along with other supplementary evidence relating to person’s disability is an important piece of document in determining the eligibility of a person with a disability for the NDIS scheme funding.
Why this new independent assessment pathway?
NDIA believes that current assessment practices are inconsistent and containing flaws due to a number of factors including unavailability of a single, generic multi-purpose assessment tool that is fit for specific NDIS purpose, other human errors and cost factors associated in getting the assessments done.
The new assessment methodology is aimed to make the assessments more balanced, and making access to the NDIS fair and more equitable for all who are genuinely in need and are left out due to reasons including their financial incapacity to be able to obtain paid assessments for the scheme entry. It is said that the new functional assessment will be completely free. As per NDIA making these assessments free will save approximately $130 to $170 million a year in cost for people with disabilities trying to access the scheme, which is quite promising.
International Capacity Framework (ICF) – a fundamental to future assessment tool
A Functional capacity framework was published by NDIA, explaining the why, what and how for the proposed change. The framework document specifically and very concretely described that fundamental to this new change is the development of a new more standardised assessment tool which fits the NDIS purpose. According to NDIA, several tools were trialled since the start of the scheme, and were made redundant, as none completely met the purpose of the scheme. The diagnosis-based tools used currently are not wrong however a more adequate, standardised and a mix of assessment methods can be a possible solution.
As NDIA is still expecting to develop this new tool and research for a perfect tool may be underway, NDIA and researchers believe that to formulate an explicit and measurable definition of functional capacity for the NDIS context, International classification of Disability framework (ICF) is most suitable and hence is a fundamental for the formation of this heavenly tool.
Besides just bringing in the adequate tools, huge emphasis was also placed by NDIA on selecting independent assessors having required qualifications, training and clinical experience to bring standardisation across the board.
Critics – Disability Advocates and other sources
The change proposed is not very positively taken by many disability advocates and provider groups. The main concerns are around the selection of independent assessors itself, as there is a perceived risk of these assessors being completely alien to the participant’s needs and a likelihood of basing the functional assessment from the guidance obtained out of a mere tool. This perception is totally contradictory to the NDIA’s viewpoint, as NDIA is actually aiming to eradicate the sympathy bias (may be existing) between a practitioner having known the participant and hence a potential factor believed to have incorrectly influencing assessment outcomes.
However to address the gaps that may arise during the assessment process owing to the fact that the independent assessors might not have known the participant from a long time and may accidentally miss some of the details, it is said that the guidance obtained from the tools will be further supplemented with other documentations, family or friend views and other evidences, to produce a comprehensive and complete outcome.
Time factor for such assessments
It seems that the new tool and the methodology used will be very comprehensive and such an assessment may be time consuming leading to longer wait times for people with disabilities. NDIA did explained the issue around wait times and the impact this may have on the person waiting desperately for the scheme access. NDIA mentioned of balancing it out and that it will be a need-based approach trimming down the full assessment if not needed, the exact details be further disclosed as the scheme evolves.
In summary, considering all the pros of this new independent assessment approach posted by NDIA and the concerns by disability providers and advocates, it seems that the exact future outcome of this new process seems very unpredictable and a judgement cannot be made at this stage.
Undoubtedly the actual framework produced by NDIA is quite detailed and convincing for the change however the most scary and uncertain part of this change is that this assessment tool that NDIA is advocating for is yet inexistent and no or little information provided on any precursor formats so far. The research is still underway.
If we listen to advocates the change will bring more barriers for the people to access the scheme and will put unnecessary burden on people already suffering with the slow turnaround time experienced in dealing with the Agency.