Proposed workers` compensation changes in 2015

Proposed workers’ compensation changes in 2015
In March 2015, the Minister for Employment introduced legislation to amend the Safety,
Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. This Act underpins the operation of the
Commonwealth workers’ compensation scheme, which is regulated by Comcare and, if passed, will
affect workers’ compensation arrangements for all employees covered by the scheme.
The proposed amendments aim to do the following things:
improve return to work outcomes for injured workers;
put the focus on early intervention and health outcomes of injured workers; and
improve the operation of the system by excluding non work-related injuries, excluding
secondary psychological injuries from some compensation and removing payment for non
evidence-based treatments.
Why change Comcare?
The Comcare scheme generally operates effectively. It achieves relatively high safety and return to
work outcomes, and it is almost the only scheme in Australia to provide income replacement to
retirement age and medical support for life.
The legislation underpinning the scheme has not changed much since it was introduced 27 years
ago. Workplaces and working conditions, health care and rehabilitation practices, technology and
social behaviour and expectations have all changed in that time. Various court decisions have also
affected the way the Act is applied in practice. To keep pace with the modernisation of work and
health practices, the scheme needs to be updated.
There are also signs that the scheme is coming under pressure. For example:
whilst Comcare’s return to work rates are better than the average, they are falling;
some medical treatments are failing to make people better in the long-term; and
employers face rising premiums and other costs.
What is changing?
There are many proposed changes.
In simple terms, the proposed changes will mean that people will be better off in terms of getting
back to work, access to rehabilitation and quality of medical treatment and attendant care.
Claims and disputes will be processed more quickly and some people will receive higher payments
than they currently receive.
However, eligibility for non-work related injuries and some payments will be reformed, and less
effective treatment and support options will be constrained.
Proposed Workers’ Compensation Changes in 2015
An outline of the changes follows:
Ensure a stronger focus on rehabilitation and return-to-work
 Stronger requirements for employers to meet rehabilitation and return to work obligations
and clarifying their roles and responsibilities.
 Stronger obligations for employees to participate in injury management and rehabilitation.
 Better structured income replacement, to encourage better return to work rates.
 Suspension of compensation if absent from Australia for more than 6 weeks.
 All employees to have access to rehabilitation.
 Quicker processes for developing vocationally-based rehabilitation programs.
Targeted and timely support for injured employees
 Payment of up to $5,000 in medical expenses without a need to have lodged a claim.
 Higher lump sum payments for employees with severe or multiple injuries, and lower
payments for those with minor injuries, taking into account pre-existing conditions.
 Income replacement payments linked to the pension age, as it changes.
 Requirement for quicker notification of claims by employers and time limits on Comcare’s
determination of claims.
 Removal of the financial cap for services provided in the home for the catastrophically
injured, while retaining the cap and introducing a 3 year limit on these services for others.
Scheme integrity and viability
 Some injuries will require a stronger link to employment.
 No lump sum payments for secondary psychological injuries.
 Less scope for reasonable actions taken by managers that lead to claims for compensation.
 Ensuring medical treatment is evidence-based.
 Attendant care services to be provided by trained staff.
 Caps on medical and legal costs.
 Streamlined administrative provisions (e.g. improved information gathering powers, third
party indemnity requirements and compensation for defective administration).
 Three-stage sanctions regime, culminating in cancellation of compensation for those who
refuse to comply with reasonable requirements.
What is staying the same?
 Injured employees will receive support (income replacement, medical treatment and
rehabilitation) for as long as they need it. In addition, lump sum permanent impairment
payments will continue to be available to eligible employees.
 As well as providing these benefits, employers will continue to have an obligation to
provide suitable employment to injured employees.
 Appeal rights will continue to be available to injured employees who disagree with a
decision that affects them.
 An employee’s dependents will receive compensation where the employee’s death is the
direct result of a work-related injury or illness.
 The Comcare scheme will remain a ‘no fault’ scheme – an injured employee will not need
to prove negligence on the part of their employer.
Further information explaining the proposed changes is available here