Blitz on suspect compensation claims

Federal public servants seeking workers’ compensation payouts face the biggest crackdown in decades.

A federal government review of the $1.2 billion Comcare insurance scheme has urged sweeping reform to reduce the number of dubious claims for psychological injuries, payouts for dodgy therapies, doctor shopping and outright fraud.

The review has made more than 147 recommendations to rewrite the legislation on Commonwealth public sector compensation claims, with the aim of getting injured bureaucrats back to work and ending their “passive” reliance on compensation.

The taxpayer-funded insurer lost more than $500 million in the 2011-2012 financial year as the number of claims for psychological injuries in the public sector – many related to accusations of bullying and harassment – increased.

According to the review’s two reports by Melbourne barrister Peter Hanks, QC, and former Defence Department boss Allan Hawke, the “long tail” of the Comcare scheme means an individual claim can exceed $2 million.

The review, ordered last year by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, cited a case of taxpayers paying nearly $30,000 for massage therapy that had “no curative effect” and another of a bureaucrat in Brisbane who was flown to a Buddhist meditation retreat in Alice Springs to treat his anxiety disorder.

The reports do not call for cuts to benefits for injured workers but urge a shift from a payout-oriented scheme to one that emphasises rehabilitation and a return to work.

The report says claims for psychological injuries have increased by 30 per cent in the past three years and are four times higher in the federal public service than for other employers.

Mr Hanks says compensation for these claims should not be paid for more than three months without a diagnosis by a properly qualified medical practitioner.

The senior barrister also wants an end to payouts for mental stress caused by imaginary factors.

“It is an unfair burden on employers to make them liable to pay compensation for a psychological injury that is caused by an employee’s fantasising rather than by any aspect of employment,” he wrote.

Among the recommendations is a no-fault, provisional liability that would cover injured workers for a three-month rehabilitation period and a shift in jurisdictions for workplace dispute resolution from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to Fair Work Australia.

Mr Hanks wrote that Comcare’s legislative framework, the the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, was supposed to be beneficial to workers but the insurer had a duty to spend taxpayers’ money wisely.

He urged greater vigilance on doctors who supported compensation payouts, saying health practitioners should be ”held accountable for their conduct”, so ”they do not exploit what is, in effect, a publicly funded scheme by overcharging, overservicing or providing services that do not meet basic professional standards”.

Mr Shorten said he would consult ”stakeholders” about the reports.

“It is vital that the Comcare scheme is focused on early and effective intervention to promote recovery of injured workers. It is also critical that employers and Comcare are pro-active in supporting injured workers from the point of injury, during rehabilitation and when they return to work,” he said.

Recent cases

  • Commonwealth public servant compensated, after a court appeal, for injuries sustained during a “vigorous” sex session in a motel room on a work trip.
  • Underperforming Canberra public servant compensated after she claimed one-on-one counselling sessions constituted bullying.
  • A public servant in Brisbane was flown to Alice Springs for a Buddhist meditation retreat to treat his anxiety disorder.
  • Canberra government worker paid $29,000 for massage treatment that had “no curative effect’’.

(Source: Noel Towell, SMH, 30 March 2013)

Rushmore (Author)

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