Disabled Australians could be forced to wait up to a year for their disability support claims as the government’s crackdown on the pension clogs the system with thousands of medical examinations.
Claimants are being told there are not enough doctors on Centrelink’s books to perform all the Disability Medical Assessments ordered under the Coalition’s disability support pension policy, despite a private-sector operation being hired to carry out the work for $21 million a year.
But the giant Department of Human Services denies there is any problem processing the assessments, says that the reports of the 12-month processing times are not correct, and that claims for the pension can be complex and will take as long as they take.
But the department will not say how long it will take to process new DSP claims.
Before his abrupt resignation, former Human Services Minister Stuart Robert boasted last month that the new regime of medical checks on all DSP claimants aged under-35 years had resulted in about one in seven young adults being booted off the pension.
The National Audit Office expressed concern recently that the policy targeting the under-35s might make it less likely that the vast bulk of claimants who are outside of that age bracket would face medical scrutiny of their claims.
Strong evidence has also emerged that the sheer volume of Disability Medical Assessments demanded by the policy means that new claimants must endure lengthy periods in limbo before they can be seen by a DHS-sanctioned “medical professional”.
Centrelink clients have told Fairfax they had been advised by the welfare agency to prepare for waits of up to 12 months because there were not enough doctors to perform all the DMAs being demanded.
Private sector outfit Medibank Health solutions was awarded a $21 million 12-month contract last year to undertake the assessments around the country.
Human Services’ chief spokesman Hank Jongen defended his department’s record, saying the medical assessments were being done in a “timely manner”.
“Since the introduction of Disability Medical Assessments from 1 January 2015, government contracted doctors have been available to conduct DMAs in a timely manner,” Mr Jongen said.
“It is incorrect to suggest that Disability Support Pension claims are taking up to 12 months to process.”
Mr Jongen said claiming a DSP could be a complex process.
“DMAs are only one part of the DSP claim process,” he said.
“The department works to ensure that claims are processed as quickly as possible.
“Given the complexity involved with the DSP claim process, the timeframe for processing a claim can vary and is dependent on a number of factors, including whether the claimant has provided all of the information required.
“The number of DMAs that will be completed each year is a function of demand. That is, all DSP claims that are required to undergo a DMA will be subject to an assessment.
“Claims where it is determined that a person is manifestly eligible for DSP are not required to undergo a DMA.”
The department would not answer questions about how many doctors were being supplied by Medibank Health Solutions.
“MHS are required to deliver Disability Medical Assessment services on a national basis to meet demand and provide appropriate access to services,” he said.
“They are not required to provide a finite number of doctors.”