Concerns about the price of assistive technology products arise regularly in public policy discourse and the media. With the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Aged Care Reforms, clarity about the fairness (or not) of existing AT retail prices is central to ensuring effective AT public policy development and implementation for the one in ten Australians who rely on AT to do everyday tasks that others take for granted.
Available evidence indicates that while AT can be expensive, it is in fact cheaper in Australia than in other comparable countries. Effective price comparisons require comparing like-with-like, not only in relation to the product but also services and other costs that are incorporated into retail prices. The Queensland Competition Authority recently compared like-with-like AT prices and found Australia was 24% lower than the best available overseas price when transportation to Australia was included in the calculation. ATSA price comparisons using a different method produced similar results with Australian prices on average between 14-27% cheaper.
Notwithstanding the general impression that the AT industry is about 'aids and equipment, hardware and gadgets', it is largely a service-based industry with an extensive range of services aimed at ensuring a good match between the individual and their AT incorporated into the retail price. The extent of these services is described in detail in the background paper. Yes, consumers can buy AT on the internet from internet-only AT sellers in the USA for about half the price of purchasing through a retail shop-front in Australia, but when transportation costs are factored in along with the lack of coverage by Australia's strong consumer protection laws, the difficulty and costs of enforcing overseas warranties, and the purchaser carrying all responsibility for ensuring appropriateness of the AT for their needs; assembly/adjustment/customisation; sourcing spares, maintenance and repairs; training in safe use, etc. these may not be the bargains they appear to be. Particularly in relation to more complex AT such as a light-weight customised manual wheelchair for a very active person, a motorised wheelchair with customised seating and complex controls, or even something 'simpler' such as a hoist to help someone get in and out of bed, or a pressure care cushion, AT retailers typically trial and test a variety of products and options with the consumer and their therapist, with free in-home trials over a period of days or weeks commonplace to ensure the best available solution is achieved.