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$27 Million Extra For Disability Equipment And Modifications

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Government will inject an extra $7 million immediately and another $20 million over the next two years to reduce waiting times and meet spiralling costs for equipment and modification services for disabled people.

This is on top of the $63 million budgeted for equipment and modification services this financial year.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says, "Rising costs are unsustainable, even with the extra cash, so the Government is also making eligibility criteria fairer and more targeted. We are also introducing more competitive, Pharmac-type processes for buying disability equipment including hearing aids."

"The number of people applying has increased by 2.5 per cent in 12 months but the value of those applications has risen by 25 per cent - and this is faster than funding can keep up with," says Mr Ryall.

"For example, disabled people often use a $2,000 stand-alone hoist to help them into bed or into a shower. Now many people are asking for the newer version that runs along tracks attached to the ceiling - but that has a price tag of $15,000."

"Ballooning demand means some people are having to wait up to 12 months for some services and that is unacceptable."

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia says the Government is introducing fairer and more targeted eligibility criteria for funding hearing aids from Wednesday 3 March.

Mrs Turia says, "For years, the taxpayer has been fully funding top of the line hearing aids, often at a cost of over $2,500 for each aid, for highly paid people like judges, doctors and senior public servants while many beneficiaries got only a $198 subsidy."

"That is unfair and we are increasing access to hearing aids for severely deaf people and low income people. At the same time we are asking working people to contribute more towards their hearing aids while maintaining the same eligibility for children, students and the elderly."

Hearing Aid Eligibility Changes: An estimated 2,700 working people without a community services card will be eligible for a $500 subsidy every six years instead of a fully funded hearing aid. However working people with community services cards will still be eligible for a fully funded hearing aid. An estimated 1500 adults (mostly beneficiaries) severely deaf from birth can now get fully funded hearing aids for the first time. Previously they were eligible for a $198 subsidy. People with a sudden and severe hearing loss such as from a severe viral infection will now qualify for a fully funded hearing aid whether they work or not. An estimated 1300 people (mostly beneficiaries) with mild or moderate hearing loss will now qualify for a $500 subsidy rather than a $198 subsidy. Children and students under 21, and people with dual disabilities will continue to get fully funded hearing aids. People 65 years and over with a Super Gold Card will get their existing $500 subsidy per hearing aid every six years if they need it.

Other Changes: Ministry of Health to put more equipment out for competitive tender in line with the Pharmac-type purchasing model. New threshold for other Ministry of Health funded equipment from $37 to $50 (from 3 March 2010). New maximum Ministry contribution of $15,000 for housing modifications like installing ramps and lifts (from 3 March 2010).

The changes will save up to $9 million a year once bedded in.

Both Ministers say it is also critical the Ministry now develops new prioritisation tools, options around further use of co-payments and different purchase arrangements to ensure disabled people can continue to get the services they need when they need them.

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