Restore medical benefits: Committee unanimous

Rod Brown
Assistant General Secretary (Research and Industrial)

Bid to limit powers to thwart claims of injured workers.

Medical benefits slashed under changes to workers compensation in 2012 should be restored, a NSW Parliamentary Standing Committee has unanimously recommended.

The Committee, consisting of Liberals, Nationals, the ALP and NSW Greens MPs recommended the Government should restore lifetime medical benefits for hearing aids, prostheses, home and vehicle modifications for all injured workers and promptly review the viability of restoring all lost medical benefits for injured workers under the Workers Compensation Scheme.

As at May 2014, the Workers Compensation Scheme's surplus had grown to about $1.3 billion.

The rationale for the Government's changes to workers compensation legislation at the time of the changes in 2012 was that the Workers Compensation Scheme had an estimated $4 billion deficit. In a report provided by the WorkCover Actuary, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, however, the deficit was already on a downward projection and estimated to be in surplus, without the 2012 changes, by 2019.

The Government is not scheduled to respond to the Committee's recommendations until March 17, 2015 by which time the Government will be in the caretaker period immediately before the state election on March 28, 2015.

The Committee also recommended that legal practitioners acting for an injured worker be paid or recover fair and reasonable fees for the work undertaken in connection with a review of a work capacity decision of an insurer. This recommendation addresses, in part, the unequal legal power of insurers to use in-house legal expertise to thwart the claims of injured workers.

The Committee also raised concerns about WorkCover's failure to pursue "phoenix companies" - that is, companies that go into liquidation only to reform, often the very next day under a new name to escape paying unpaid liabilities including workers compensation. Such phoenix companies have become a feature of, but not limited to the building industry.