Doctor and activist


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Tag: Workers Compensation

iCare will repay 53,000 underpaid injured workers

11 November 2021

iCare, the State workers’ compensation insurer has admitted that it has underpaid thousands of workers and will now repay them, according to an article in today’s SMH.

This story has been leaking out in the media for ages.  At a day to day level, my patients have always complained that they get a lot less in compo than they got before their injury. This has been even for workers on regular salaries. Those on casual work were in a worse situation as there was some argument about what their PIAWE (Pre-Injury Average Weekly Earnings) were, especially if they got variable hours from a labour-hire company.

When this scandal first broke, I tried to tell my patients to ask iCare if they had been underpaid and some did.  It seemed that iCare could not work out what their PIAWEs were. It did not have the data. In that employers’ future premiums related to how much was paid out in claims, it suited both the employers and the insurers to minimise their PIAWE, so if a low amount was put in, there was little incentive to check it up.  Now, a few years later, iCare would need a forensic accountant going through the employer’s books to get to the correct amount. This is unlikely to happen.

So while this promise is a start, it is hard to believe that it will be enough to see justice done.

Workers’ Compensation has always been seen as a cost for business rather than a moral obligation to pay for people injured at work. Generally it is about minimising the cost of the payout, rather than having an energetic injury prevention programme.

The Minister in charge is the Treasurer, so all of this happened on Dominic Perrottet’s watch. Matt Kean, the new Treasurer may be more sympathetic, and this will help, but we still need a lot better enforcement of safety to prevent accidents, and much more power to injured people to ensure that they are correctly paid.

It illustrates that active Unions are necessary to redress the power imbalances in the the system. Legislation without enforcement is just words on a page, just as apologies from banks and insurance companies for rip-offs are just sound vibrations in the air.

Here is the article:

‘My sincere apology’: iCare will pay back $38 million to 53,000 injured workers

Lucy Cormack          SMH   November 11, 2021

State insurer iCare will pay $38 million to 53,000 largely underpaid injured workers affected by historic miscalculation errors between 2012 and 2019.

An iCare review of 16,000 injured worker case files has revealed an average error rate of 3.5 per cent or an underpayment of $26 a week due to miscalculated pre-injury average weekly earnings.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to any injured worker who has been affected by this calculation error,” said ICare chief executive Richard Harding.

Among the most seriously injured and affected are 523 workers underpaid a total of more than $3.9 million, or around $7500 each.

The mass pay-out follows a joint investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and ABC’s Four Corners which last year revealed iCare had underpaid as many as 52,000 injured workers by up to $80 million in compensation.

ICare then disputed the underpayment figures, saying it believed only 5000 to 10,000 workers had been underpaid up to $10 million in total.

Chief executive officer Richard Harding on Thursday said affected employers and employees had been unable to provide the data to accurately assess underpayments. As a result, iCare conducted a “file by file review” of 16,000 cases as a sample to assess the scale of the errors.

“We’ve been advised there is a risk of overcompensation in this approach, but the desire is to get money back as quickly as possible,” Mr Harding said.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to any injured worker who has been affected by this calculation error.”

The underpayments were caused by errors in the calculation of pre-injury average weekly earnings for injured workers dating back to 2012, when the insurance scheme was run by WorkCover.

Mr Harding said the average lump sum to be paid to the 53,000 workers will be around $700. However, some will receive thousands.

Affected workers will receive any money owed through an adjustment of their weekly benefits for the weeks already paid. Any historical overpayments caused by the same miscalculation error will not be recouped by iCare.

Revelations of financial mismanagement and widespread underpayment across the iCare stable first emerged last year, before a subsequent review into its culture and governance revealed systemic weaknesses and a failure to hold management to account.

Labor treasury spokesman Daniel Mooched said the announcement repudiated earlier claims that only a small number of people were affected.

“As always with iCare, the devil is in the detail. But today’s announcement is meaningful for the tens of thousands of people iCare underpaid”.

Mr Mookhey said the insurer must guarantee that it will not seek to recover the money from sick and injured workers through benefit cuts or employers through higher premiums.

Upper house Greens MP David Shoebridge said the pay-out to workers followed years of chasing by unions, injured workers and non-government MPs.

While he welcomed the payments, he said there was “no evidence from iCare that this payment goes anywhere near meeting their full obligation to injured workers”.

“We will continue to press iCare for a full accounting so that no injured worker is left short-changed,” he said.

Unions have described the decision to reimburse workers as a significant step but called for greater transparency about the process.

“This is hardly an organisation that can be taken at its word. iCare executives, who are better known for receiving fat bonuses, must detail their methodology,” said Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW.

Last week, a budget estimates hearing heard iCare had reported a $1.4 billion underwriting loss in the past year, with the total accumulated loss of the past three years now exceeding $6 billion.

Treasurer Matt Kean, who is responsible for iCare, told the hearing new legislation following recommendations from another review prompted by the scandal would not be introduced until 2022.

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iCare Doesn’t Know and Doesn’t Pay Underpaid workers

7 March 2121

The incompetence of Perottet’s iCare never ceases to amaze.

It underpaid injured workers but was not sure how many. It was initially 240,000. Then it changed its to estimate to 52,000 people underpaid up to $80 million. Then possibly as little as $5 million. In March it is 23,000 and $20 million. They don’t actually know. After 18 months 25 have actually been compensated!!!
This is all treated as some of ‘management error’ as if this makes it OK. These are a lot of abstract words, but few concrete ones. The idea of abstract words is that the concepts can be discussed better. But mostly management words are so general as to be meaningless, and principally serve to make everything non-specific and also euphemistic. No one says, ‘They did not know or care and their incompetence led to immense suffering for the families who were underpaid’. It becomes, ’There was a lack of management understanding and focus and some workers may have been paid less than their entitlement’.
Naturally no one will be punished.
All I know is that even the routine service takes about 3 weeks to get anything done. I had a patient doubly incontinent after a spinal injury. It takes up to 10 working days to get a claim approved, then up to 10 working days for them to approve an MRI and a specialist consultation. This is normal. When they delay things it is worse, and sometimes they refuse to pay at all.
www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/scathing-icare-review-finds-a-need-for-cultural-change-20210301-p576tq.html

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Scathing PWC Report Finds Perottet’s iCare Incompetent

6 March 2021

A 100 Page report by consulting from international PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers ) found weakness in performance and governance, and the Board did not hold management to account. 

We might also consider that the Minister, Dominic Perottet did not hold the Board accountable, and appears to show no interest at all in the injured people for whom the whole scheme supposedly exists. We might note that no doctors or patients appear to have been interviewed either- Hey, it’s all about money you know!  One could ask why PWC did a report when Justice McDougall was simultaneously doing one that it coming out in April?  Perhaps he is a lawyer and does not know enough about money.

The bottom line is that it was run from the top by people who only knew about money with little input about its proper function from the people at the coal face, who presumably should have some knowledge of the people that they are supposedly helping.  (I say that with reservation, as the case managers that I deal with have high turnover, little insight and seem to assume that a large percentage of their cases are fraudulent, the doctors are hell-bent on inventing pathologies to over-treat and they have to follow elaborate protocols designed to ensure that no one could under any circumstances get one cent more than was absolutely necessary).

So we digest the Management-speak of this report and await the McDougall report which had terms of reference that allowed little input from patients or doctors, held no hearings and seemed to exist principally to take the heat off the Minister from last August until its April release.

It seems that there has been a generic concept since the 1980s that managers know best, that other degrees and knowledge from lesser beings or lesser ranks and incomes are not of value or to be listened to.  It has come unstuck in so many situations that its time that some little boy (or girl) points out that ‘The Emperors have no Clothes’.  Then we can go back to an older time, where people had appropriate training, worked their way up, knew their jobs, were promoted on merit and had small salary increments reflecting their incremental status rise.  But I suppose that this would rely on people having permanent jobs and depower the whole new managerial class and their symbiotic consultants and reduce the workplace ‘flexibility’ that allows the obscene salaries at the top and insecurity at the bottom. 

If Anglo society does not want to fall to more realistic societies in Germany and Asia, there needs to be a large rethink of the Harvard 1980s management nonsense that is the foundation of these sort of debacles.

www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/scathing-icare-review-finds-a-need-for-cultural-change-20210301-p576tq.html

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Police Leaving the Police On Medical Grounds Triples- Why?

7 February 2021

We might ask why NSW Police leaving the force on medical grounds has increased from 150 a year in 2014-15 to 420 in 2019-20, almost triple.

There is talk of a culture of bullying.

We might ask what they are being asked to do. Public perception seems to have changed when the changed their name from ‘Police Service’ to ‘Police Force’. The perception that they are now revenue raising, and that their cameras are so that they cannot use their discretion as they themselves are being watched may have contributed to this.

My own view is that the ever-more invasive laws that they are expected to enforce tends to have this result as they are more often thrown into conflict with ordinary citizens who they thought that they were there to help.

www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/fish-swimming-amongst-sharks-why-so-many-police-are-quitting-the-force-20210202-p56yp6.html

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Workers Compensation in NSW and Victoria- ‘Immoral and Unethical’ – 4 Corners Exposes It. 28/7/20

This is what I have been saying for years. If you think the banks are bad, you have not dealt with insurers. They will do anything rather than pay people’s legitimate medical and living expenses.

My poor patients literally starve. They change their addresses each visit as they couch-surf their friends. The foreign patients with no Medicare cannot even get GP treatment, and because they are often paid sub-award wages in cash cannot even prove their incomes. Most specialists simply will not operate for the Medicare rebate, and even if they will the waiting time is a year. I tell the patients where the soup kitchens are. They are in huge pain and the most I hear from governments are warnings that they have been on narcotics too long, as they wait for the surgery that the insurers have refused to pay for.

The patient Scott with his supportive wife, at the beginning of the 27/7/20 4 Corners tells the story of his shattered life, which is just like what my patients tell me.

The Victorian the Ombudsman, Deborah Glass did an investigation into WorkSafe Victoria, the callous government insurer there. She found appalling behaviour and says so very clearly.

In NSW it is the same- the appalling, hopeless iCare, who should be called ‘I Don ‘t Care’ put together a bunch of insurance executives who had no experience in working with people. They all got awarded huge salaries and set about having computer algorithms to replace claims clerks. So when a claim goes wrong (which takes a while to figure out as 3 week delays are pretty much the norm), you call and ask to speak to the case manager. You can’t. But if you persist eventually you find one, but he or she only got the claim yesterday. i.e. There had been no person managing it until you hassled like hell, and it is often refused anyway.

Meanwhile the patient had no treatment and the fat cats at the top had not noticed that their system had a few glitches. And most of the concern in both the management echelons and the media is about some financial deficit which, if we are to believe the totally out-of- touch iCare CEO, Ken Nagle, depends how you do the accounting.

No one seems to remember that this is just a health insurance scheme to help Workers’ Compensation and Motor Vehicle accident Victims. If Medicare worked it would be completely unnecessary, and it cannot even manage to function like a private health insurer. It assumes that all doctors are crooks who cannot be trusted to order just the tests and operations necessary- they all have to be evaluated and denied by insurers who get every dollar that they refuse to pay, and who seek out dodgy doctors to carry out ‘Independent Medical Examinations’ (IMEs) to deny normal treatments. If the IME doctors do not do what the insurers want they get no more work from them.

The directors and top executives of iCare should be sacked and the whole thing given to ICAC to examine. ICAC needs more resources also.

SIRA (State Insurance Regulatory Authority) has been more hopeless than ASIC and APRA were with the banks, and should be abolished also. This story came from a whistle-blower, not from SIRA, the responsible agency, though some of us have been trying to get SIRA to act for years.

SIRA became a bit more interested after the Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry reported in February 2019, presumably as they realised that if the Commission has been given enough time to look at insurance, they would have had their own hopeless regulatory efforts scrutinised. They had an internal investigation, the Dore Inquiry (no, you almost certainly have not heard of it), but it did actually find that iCare was behaving appallingly. The report release was delayed 5 months (July-December 2019) and released just before Christmas with iCare’s reaction, which was to admit that they had made ‘mistakes’ and that they accepted all the recommendations. Great PR! Released on a busy day to avoid scrutiny and if you as a journo were a tiny bit interested, there was no story because iCare accepted the changes suggested. The SIRA strategy worked- no scrutiny of either iCare or SIRA.

At last there is a 4 Corners on this! Watch it if you missed it!

Let us hope that when it goes to ICAC some major changes are achieved. It seems that 4 Corners is the only regulatory force in the country. I guess that is why the government wants to de-fund the ABC.

https://youtu.be/fxIvKogrE2Q

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Domestic Violence Becomes a Workers Comp Issue 8/6/20

The NSW Supreme Court has held that the children of a worker killed at home by her mentally ill partner in a domestic violence incident can have compensation.

It is good that the issue of domestic violence gets publicity and that the children get compensation. But it raises the issue of whether employers are seriously able to assess the domestic situation of all employees and then whether they can ever hope to intervene in them.  Employers ran a long campaign not to have to pay for journey accidents, people injured on the way to work, on the basis that it was not a risk that they could control, yet which potentially might cause a big change in their insurance premiums and thus costs.  If we want our employers to be concentrating on making their businesses efficient and looking for hazards in the workplaces that they do control, it is slightly dubious public policy to have them sniffing around about employees’ home life.  This case is slightly unusual in that the employer was effectively a partnership bet ween the couple rather than having a distant employer, and the company had been deregistered which suggests some dysfunction  But the money accessed was Workers Compensation insurance and this will affect premiums and potentially other work situations.

It is true that a lot needs to be done about the discovery and action on domestic violence.  It is also true that mentally ill people need to live somewhere and that their carers are at risk.  Judges faced with people in dire need of help such as the children in this situation search for answers, and the Workers Compensation insurance scheme is a source of such funds. But the precedent set is not a good one.

The same principle applies when a baby gets into trouble at birth and has long-term adverse effects. If the obstetrician is found to have erred, there is a lot of money to give the unfortunate infant.  If he or she is not found to have erred, there is no money for the infant.  So now the premiums for obstetricians are very high and some retire in consequence.  4 Corners ran a show on this issue some time ago and it turned out that one doctor was responsible for about 60% of the problem births in Western Australia and had declined to speak to the show. Wow- go after him!  Who was he?  The Professor at the biggest teaching hospital of course.  Most of the difficult cases in the State were admitted under his name, and the staff of the hospital did their best with these cases. 

What is needed is a compensation system that is no fault.  Sometimes bad things happen.  Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes big mistakes have small consequences and sometimes little mistakes have big consequences.  With systems, it is not usually one person who makes a mistake, there are miscommunications, lack of clarity who was responsible, lack of availability of something or someone.  Accident causation theory is now an academic discipline, but the legal profession has not really caught up, let alone the political system.

A lot needs to be done about domestic violence, but I am not sure that making it a workers compensation issue will do anything more than push it into the public eye and help these children.  Employers and insurers will run a successful political campaign to change the law to exclude it.  I am not often on the side of Workers Compensation insurers, but a better solution has to be found.

www.smh.com.au/business/workplace/no-longer-a-private-matter-employer-held-responsible-for-family-violence-20200605-p54zy1.html

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Workers Compensation- WIRO the Watchdog is beheaded 11/12/19.

In the sad saga of treating NSW Workers Comp patients it is hard to know where a bad deal becomes a rip off becomes a scam becomes systemic fraud, but the NSW insurance scheme is a long way down the track.  Much worse than the Banks. The Hayne Royal Commission did not get to the […]

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