Is a national WorkCover system feasible?

Is a national WorkCover system feasible?

August 10, 2014

There are obvious advantages to having a uniform WorkCover system, interstate companies not having to deal with nine different systems(think about it,  Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, Victoria, Tasmania and Comcare!), unions with workers in different states, the amount of bureaucracy, duplication and cost shifting  is mind-boggling. It is also a nightmare for IMEs assessing people who have been injured in different jurisdictions.. Like much that we have I often think it would be best if we scrapped the whole thing and started afresh but of course that’s not going to happen.The question of a uniform WorkCover system raises further questions. Why should there be a uniform system for  people who are injured at work but totally different system so people injured in transport accidents and  loosely no system for people who are injured in other situations. Maybe we should go the New Zealand route and have a uniform accident compensation system for all accidents.  One of the advantages of a non- federal system. The political and financial implications however are mind-boggling. Nevertheless the various WorkCover authority’s in each state and territory do have an organisation looking at doing precisely this..

I think there are 4 major problems with a uniform system.

1.The situation is complicated by a number of factors. Most states have moved to AMA 5 except Victoria and the Northern Territory. There is general satisfaction with AMA 4 in Victoria and a large amount of money has been spent in training IMEs. The feedback I have received suggest there will be no change in the near future.

2.The second point is that WorkCover schemes as opposed to motor accident schemes, have powerful constituencies especially unions and employers but also lawyers. This adds to the general unwillingness for either side to sponsor change that may disadvantage their clients.

3. The third issue is a specific issue with regard to psychiatry There are three systems of measuring psychiatric impairment that are incompatible with each other. Comcare uses a rudimentary table, most states use the Psychiatric Impairment Rating Scale about which I’ve written scathingly and Victoria uses the GEPIC (see article). Does this matter? Well, in fact it has great significance because the various thresholds for claiming permanent injury are different according to the method of psychiatric impairment used. For example in New South Wales it is 15% and in Victoria it is 30%. Bearing in mind that the psychiatric impairment has to be impairment that does not result from physical injury. AMA 6, from a psychiatric point of view is a disaster although it is used in the Northern Territory for motor accident claims.

One of the reasons we don’t want change in Victoria is that the GEPIC is used for WorkCover claims, transport accident claims and civil liability claims. This makes impairment assessment much easier and more understandable, it would bring a system into disrepute if a person had both WorkCover claim and a transport accident claim and the impairment assessment produced startling different figures.

There is an answer although not for the foreseeable future. The answer is that the authors of the chapter on mental and behavioural disorders in the American Medical Association Guide produce something worthwhile instead of what has been produced since AMA 2.

4.The unwillingness of individual states  and to give up their own power and potential source of income to embrace a national model


Is a national WorkCover system feasible?: 2 comments

  1. Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson Says:

    Is a National workers compensation system feasible, this is a most interesting and oft intriguing concept.
    How would a National concept be put together?
    Where would it be based?
    Which set of AMA guidelines would be used?
    How many claims agents would there be?
    Would there be room for small specialised claims agents?
    Which training model would be expanded?
    What would a National CEO be paid?
    Would it be best to scrap every State workers compensation system and just move to the ComCare system?
    The questions and the concerns for the system keep coming.
    The industry asks itself these questions on a never ending conveyor belt of conferences and summits and seminars and papers and Boardroom meetings and water cooler chats.

    I have a different set of questions.
    When all of the workers compensation industry questions are being posed, is there ever a question or a concern about how a National workers compensation system would impact on injured workers.

    I live in South Australia, granted my work takes me all over Australia but for now I will leave that to one side.

    I take calls from remote, rural and regional injured workers who have reached their wits end trying to explain where they live to a city based case manager who has no concept of life past the great metropolitan boundaries.
    For example an injured worker who lives in the Riverland when she received a letter informing her that two IME appointments had been set for 9am and 3.30pm phoned the case manager to say that she would need to travel the day before and have accommodation over night as well as taxi vouchers to get between where she was to stay and the IME, and she would also need accommodation for the night of the IME appointment as she would not be well enough to travel back the same day.
    In the end the injured worker called me to talk to the case manager to explain that although the injured worker had a postal address where she actually lived was a further hour out of the town, the only “public” transport was a bus that left the town at 7am, it would take 5hrs to get to Adelaide on the bus hence the reason for travelling the day before the scheduled appointments and that the bus to go home left the Bus Depot at 4pm so either the injured worker did not attend the afternoon appointment or the case manager would need to cover the cost of another nights accommodation. I explained that the reason for the taxi vouchers was due to the injured worker had no idea as to the locations of the IME locations and would not be able to work out the public transport within Adelaide.
    I spent time explaining all the valid reasons as to why the injured worker would need help.
    The case manager responded to me with “buses leave every 15 minutes not just once a day and timetables are available on line” so I asked the case manager if the case manager even knew the actually location of the injured worker the case manager gave me the name of a suburb in Adelaide I responded with the correct name of the town and the length of travel time and the name of the bus company that travelled to and from Adelaide just once a day- I then told the case manager to put me through to the team leader.

    Next is a call I received from an injured long-distance transport driver.
    Normally this man was quiet, he was rarely phased by the mayhem that the workers compensation system brought into his life.
    So when he phoned me and was all but screaming down the phone I know something had gone very wrong.
    The case manager had approved a work placement for him based on the skill sets he had and his pleasant nature.
    The case manager had placed this long-distance transport driver with a courier company to work 3hr shifts 4 days over a 7 day roster.
    The first issue was the injured worker lived in a major regional location 7hrs out of Adelaide, the case manager had no idea what a B-Double was, nor was the case manager interested in anything more than getting the injured worker back to work as soon as possible so delivering flowers would be good for his work life balance.
    Again I had to escalate the concern to the team leader.

    I have given just 2 of many such issues.

    Then there is the concern of knowing how to actually pronounce names of places.
    There is a suburb here in Adelaide named Thebarton.
    Nothing unusual about the name of the suburb, everyone who lives in South Australia knows about Thebarton.
    We know it because when an interstate advertising agency does a promotion for a show at the Thebarton Theatre Thebarton is pronounce “The Barton”
    I am sure that there would be many such pronunciation issues all over Australia.

    How would a case manager based in Sydney pronounce Nangwarry or Wujal Wujal let alone know where the locations are and what type of transport is in place?

    Yes a National system is possible, the technology we use today and the advancements in communication that are forecast to come on live within a few years makes communication easier.
    However distance is still distance. a case manager based in a high-rise building in any capitol city has no concept that for some injured workers there isn’t a bus every 15 minutes let alone the nearest coffee shop being 2hours away.
    The legislation would be massively complex to cover every industry from open cut mining to growing opium poppies.
    The deliver of the system would need to be regionalised.

    I can see that for some employers a National system would make doing business a lot easier, however for the small business owner who sells petrol at a 2 pump petrol station and also runs the tyre dealership and has a automatic coffee machine a national system would be of no use at all because the need to exchange information with a claims agent based on the other side of the country simply would be untenable.

  2. Michael Epstein Says:

    Rosemary’ s comments are very apt, indeed we have a de facto national system with ComCare being used by a number of large Australian companies, inevitably with reduced service at all levels including benefits, the benefit for the companies being lower premiums. My overriding concern is the constant push to discriminate against workers with mental health problems. A nationwide phenomena

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