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Issue #1645      July, 2, 2014

Compo system’s injustice

Workers’ compensation reforms in NSW announced last week will see a very small number of injured workers, primarily workers with amputations and other horrific injuries, have their benefits returned.

However, none of these workers should have had their benefits removed in the first place and even this restoration of benefits will still leave almost 40,000 injured workers a year without access to medical benefits.

Greens MP and Industrial Relations Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“In the last two years we have seen tens of thousands of injured workers lose the right to medical benefits despite suffering often serious workplace injuries.

“The savage cuts to benefits that were made in 2012, together with a substantial increase in returns on WorkCover investments, have seen the scheme heading towards an unjustifiable $6 billion surplus.”

In evidence given to Parliament last month, WorkCover’s actuaries estimated that at least 40,000 injured workers a year are losing protection as a result of the Coalition’s 2012 reforms.

The announcement will only see medical benefits restored to a small minority of those injured workers at a cost estimated by WorkCover at a maximum of $82 million a year, a fraction of the scheme’s surplus.

“WorkCover can easily afford to reinstate medical benefits for all injured workers at a maximum estimated cost of $282 million a year,” said Mr Shoebridge.

“If you are injured at work then as a simple matter of human decency you should be covered for life for reasonable and necessary medical treatment.

“Restoring medical benefits won’t break the bank and it’s long overdue.

“It is genuinely heartbreaking to hear the stories of people who have gone from a dignified life at work to a life of poverty and pain, simply because they were injured at work and the system no longer protects them,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Background

The “medical cap” is a change to the law that was made in the 2012 reform process. It denies all but “seriously injured” workers any right to ongoing medical benefits if it is 12 months or more since they last received workers’ compensation income payments.

“Seriously injured” is defined under the current scheme as having a “whole person impairment” (WPI) of more than 30%. Having your entire leg amputated at below the knee amounts to only a 28% WPI.

This “medical cap” has effectively terminated the right to medical treatment for all but a tiny minority of injured workers who have retired, as well as thousands of other workers who have got back to work despite carrying an ongoing injury.

The government’s proposal is to change the definition of “seriously injured” to a WPI of more than 21%. This will exclude the vast majority of injured workers including severe injuries such as multi-level back injuries that
require surgery.

Next article – It’s time to put fracking to bed once and for all

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