CTP, Compulsory Third Party insurance (Green Slips) is an area where I work. In theory, if you are injured in an accident that is not your fault, all your treatment is currently paid for by your insurer. The law says that they must pay for ‘reasonable and necessary’ treatment, which I assume to mean the treatment that would happen in good routine medical practice. Wrong.
The insurers have 3 months to decide if they are liable for the accident. If they decide they are not they will not pay. If they decide that they will pay, all treatment decisions have to be referred to them as to whether they will pay or not, and sometimes, despite MRI scans, severe symptoms and a neurosurgeon saying that their life is at risk, they will not pay. I have a number of patients who have waited over a year in agony for treatments that are both reasonable and necessary but the insurers will not pay for. They say that the patients can get it themselves if they like (obviously if they can afford it), of they can get it on Medicare (if they have Medicare and if they can find a surgeon who will operate on Medicare for a third of the money that should be paid by the insurer. Such surgeons cannot be found).
The protocol for disputes vary slightly between insurers. For example, the NRMA protocol is that you can firstly approach the claims clerk who rejected it and ask him/her to change their mind. Secondly you can appeal to their team leader. Thirdly you can appeal to the NRMA Senior Claims Manager. Fourthly you can appeal to the government appointed Medical Assessment Service (MAS), which guarantees to assess the disputed issue and rule within 3 months! Or the treating doctor can try to find a Medicare surgeon, send them to a public hospital, or write yet another prescription for pain killers. (Mostly the insurers pay for pain killers, though they do argue over some other drugs). Many GPs have simply given up treating CTP patients.
All these delays, frequently running into months can be compared to the doctors and nurses in Emergency Departments of public hospitals who have to write long explanations for the Health Minister if patients wait more than 4 hours in the Emergency Departments. So if you think private medicine is better than public- think again. We are going the way of the US. Insurers control it all.
Patients are assesses by an iniquitous system devised by American Insurance companies in cooperation, (inexplicably enough) with the American Medical Association. This has resulted in a tome, the ‘AMA Guidelines for the Assessment of Permanent Impairment’ which supposedly gives a percentage of impairment of your body, so that injured people can get compensation based on the percentage impairment that they have. Doctors can do a course in how to use this guidebook and then do lucrative medicals based on it. The reason the book was produced was to lessen litigation on how injured someone was, which would save legal costs. As pain cannot be measured, this was left out, which is just the first reason why the book is a farce. Since pain is the main thing that stops people working, to talk of impairment without considering pain is almost like having a swimming race without water- just not quite. Secondly despite the tome’s carefully crafted descriptions, doctors assessment using the guidelines vary widely. Thirdly, it is very hard to get over 10% impairment, which is the amount Mr Baird’s reforms intend to define as more than a ‘minor injury’ so there will be many people with only a few percent impairment, and thus minimal compensation, who will be unemployed and unemployable. Fourthly, the guides only talk of ‘impairment’. Any one who works in disability knows that there is quite a difference between an impairment and a disability. For example if someone is very shortsighted they are impaired, but if they have good prescription glasses they may not be disabled by that impairment. People who work with their brains are similarly less disabled than those who need their physical strength, but have the same impairment. So physical workers are again disadvantaged.
The new scheme will cut out lawyers and advocacy, and will give a statutory small amount to ‘minor’ injuries. The insurers will dump long term patients on the welfare system and continue to get a lot of money for doing not much that is useful.
I would finish by saying that I think the whole system is appalling and that the way to solve the health system problem is to raise the Medicare rebate from 48% of the AMA fee to 85%, where it was when it started, and there would be no trouble getting doctors to treat the patients who needed it. There also needs to be a single insurer, so that disputes between insurers will not delay treatment, which they frequently do, and everyone should be covered, even ‘at fault’ drivers, who still need treating despite their error.
For the present six insurers, all are bad, but they are not all as bad as each other. There are no published figures to compare them rationally, but based on personal experience, I have just changed my insurance from NRMA to GIO. The TV ad about feeling ‘confident’ about your insurer is a bad joke.
Wish me luck, as I wish you.
Here is an SMH article by Anna Patty 12/9/16 which raises the issues in a somewhat understated way.