There will be significant changes to Comcare if this act is passed. The matters of major relevance to forensic psychiatrists include:
On 25 March 2015, the Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon. Eric Abetz, introduced legislation into Parliament to amend the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act). The SRC Act underpins the operation of the Comcare scheme.
The proposed changes in the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Improving the Comcare Scheme) Bill 2015 aim to:
The Minister’s second reading speech (amended and highlighted when required).
The minister focused on the usual motherhood issues
1. Ensuring a stronger focus on rehabilitation and return to work
The relevant information included the following:
A large body of evidence based research has established that many health problems can benefit from work based rehabilitation and an earlier return to work. The compensation payment system has been restructured to provide targeted financial incentives to return to some form of work as soon as safely possible.
Systemic incentives to remain on workers compensation for extended periods will be removed by providing for more graduated reductions in income replacement payments and reducing compensation payable where an injured employee refuses employment while having a capacity to earn in suitable employment.
2.Targeted support for injured employees
There will be targeted support for injured employees. To reduce the financial stress of illness and injury, the scheme will now provide for provisional medical payments of up to $5,000 before a claim is determined. The employer will have immediate rehabilitation responsibilities. Employees will no longer be required to utilise accrued leave before receiving these payments.
Professional, monitored, post-injury care will be provided to employees for the first three years of their injury, with uncapped, long-term or life-long care available to the catastrophically injured after this time.
Seriously injured workers will have the maximum lump sum payment amount increased from $242,000 to $350,000.
For those with less serious injuries, these payments will be more accurately scaled to allow for higher payments for those who need more support?
Time frames will be introduced for determining claims and resolving disputed claims, as well as improved information-gathering powers. Employers will also be required to lodge claims more quickly, and within specified timeframes, once they are notified of a claim.
To ensure that there are no gaps or inequities in the payment of entitlements to workers nearing pension age, eligibility for income replacement will be linked to the national age pension age and the five per cent reduction in compensation payments for employees accessing superannuation benefits will be removed.
The changes mentioned below may well have a significant effect on those who Comcare claims.
3. Scheme integrity and viability
The bill will ensure that system deals only with employment-related injury and disease as was the original intent of the legislation. This intention has been watered down by judicial interpretations leading to increased premiums and pressures on the viability of the scheme.
Amendments to the act will distinguish more clearly between work and non-work related injuries and limit the payment of compensation only to employees with work injuries. There will need to be established a clear causal connection with work before compensation is payable.
The amendments will also clarify the matters to be taken into consideration for psychological claims and introduce new thresholds for specified pre-existing conditions such as heart, brain and spinal injuries to ensure that the scheme is accepting liability for conditions that are work-related.
As the workers’ compensation system was never designed to prevent employers taking reasonable action to manage their employees, the proposed amendments will clarify the range of reasonable management actions that, when reasonably undertaken, should not give rise to compensation claims.
In order to address rapidly escalating scheme costs and ensure the long-term viability of the scheme, Comcare will establish schedules that specify the amounts payable for medical treatment and medical reports, and legal services obtained by claimants. Currently, there are no limits on the amounts that Comcare now pays for these items.
Schedules will not only reduce lengthy dispute time frames but provide greater certainty and transparency for service providers and claimants (and reduce payments to medical providers and for medical reports).
The integrity of the scheme will be underpinned by a three-stage sanctions regime in which employees who do not meet their medical treatment and rehabilitation obligations will have their compensation rights suspended or cancelled.