People over the age of 65 who lose their vision because of macular degeneration will not be eligible for care under the hotly debated National Disability Scheme (NDIS).
According to Julie Heraghty, Chief Executive Officer of the Macular Disease Foundation, this decision, which is purely based on the age of a person, is arbitrary and discriminatory. “If you go blind before the age of 65 you’re in (the NDIS) but if you go blind after 65, you’re out… Consider this scenario. Two brothers, one aged 64, the other aged 65 and two months. They both lose their vision through macular degeneration. The younger brother has the care packages he needs fully funded for the rest of his life. The older brother gets nothing.”
Ms. Heraghty has been lobbying the government for change and says caring for people over 65 with MD within the NDIS would save significant money for the government, the patients and their families.
“The vast majority of people who go blind or have vision loss do so after the age of 65. The response from government is they are best catered for in the aged care system – which has neither the capacity, expertise or funding to effectively manage these people,” said Ms. Heraghty.
We’re talking about miniscule amounts of money to provide the vision aids people with MD need to maintain their independence…
She said people with macular degeneration fit more appropriately into the disabilities scheme.
“The supports and services that people with macular degeneration require are usually episodic in nature, it is a chronic disease and is not an inevitable consequence of ageing. You lose vision and so you need mobility training, aids and technology – they’re the biggest services people with low vision require to maintain their independence and remain at home. This is a low cost, high return solution – a small investment for a great outcome.”
Missing Out What They’ve Paid For
On Wednesday 1 May the Federal Government decided to fund the NDIS through a universal Medicare tax. Ms. Heraghty believes this decision adds even greater weight to the argument that people with low vision, acquiring the disability after the age of 65 should be included in the scheme. “This is a universal health system which now has exclusions solely on age. These people have contributed to Medicare all of their lives and will continue to do so as well as co-contributing to the age care system and yet they are locked out of the support from NDIS on the basis of age alone. It just is not fair.”
Ms. Heraghty said the Foundation has been lobbying the federal government for change and was told change would be considered, yet nothing has been achieved.
“We’re talking about miniscule amounts of money to provide the vision aids people with MD need to maintain their independence and remain in their own homes.
“Allowing people to lose their independence is a far more expensive option. It costs a lot more to train carers and have people with MD looked after in aged care facilities. It makes no sense.”
Ms. Heraghty said the cost the community is also high. “We’re not just talking about the impact on a person with MD – we’re also talking about their family, friends and carers. Our recent research, conducted through Galaxy identified that depression rates among those who care for someone with wet AMD were triple those seen in the general population over 65 years of age. Thirty-eight per cent of carers said they’d felt frustrated, 28 per cent said they’d felt sad and 25 per cent said they’d felt down.”
“The ripple effect of vision loss beyond the individual is extensive. The majority of time, spouses are bearing the brunt, with the flow on effects impacting the carer’s family, the community and the healthcare system,” she said.
In conclusion Ms. Heraghty said, managing MD starts with maximising independence and quality of life. “The simple equation is that if you give people this very low cost option – mobility, aids, etc it’s most likely they’ll maintain an independent life that will cost us all less – financially and emotionally. It’s so simple – it’s such common sense – and it’s amazing that policy makers can not understand this is a cost effective way to cater for our older Australians with vision impairment and blindness.”
She said the Foundation will continue to fight for equity of access to the NDIS.