The $2.2 billion a year scheme – rebranded DisabilityCare Australia – will fully fund early intervention treatment, replacing the current government program which only covers a fraction of the cost.
“Unlike the Helping Children with Autism (HCA) program, the funding will not be capped“ according to a spokesperson for the Minister of Disability Reform Jenny Macklin.
“Most people with autism will be part of DisabilityCare Australia,” they said, stressing the scheme would work to identify the individual needs of every patient.
“The full cost of early intervention will be met by the scheme” for children with autism who meet the early intervention program criteria.
DisabilityCare will also cover “intervention supports” that are deemed “reasonable and necessary” according to the spokesperson.
The HCA package currently restricts funding to $12,000 (a maximum of $6,000 a year) for children under seven years old.
But the only eligible intervention that is based on “established research evidence” (applied behavioural analysis or early intensive behavioural intervention) cost tens of thousands of dollars a year for any one patient.
“The non-capping is a very big and welcome surprise,” said John Kelly, Autism Spectrum Australia’s Director of the NDIS Ready initiative.
“It’s a significant advancement in terms of the support people need, so that’s something we’re delighted to hear about,” he said.
“But we don’t want to forget about adults and the support they need as well”.
The department spokesperson said there will be no age cutoff for early intervention cover “except for the age cut off that applies to the scheme generally”, which dictates a person must access the scheme before 65.
Considering current autism criteria defines age of onset as under three years old, early intervention cover for adults is highly unlikely.
Mr Kelly was also wary of the phrase “reasonable and necessary” when it came to intervention supports. “That for us is a bit of a worry in terms of what is deemed necessary supports,” he said.
“When we read the [disability requirements] criteria, it seems that the work we do in terms of helping people with social skills, forming friendships and finding work will be covered, but we just don’t know.”
“Once the scheme’s up and running we’ll get a much clearer idea of who’s in who’s out and where the money is directed,” he said.
DisabilityCare Australia is due to be fully rolled out in 2016.
As first appeared in Psychiatry Update, 15 May 2013