ACT Government to move away from Comcare

The ACT Government has moved to take its 20,000 public servants out of the Comcare scheme. The ACT will walk away after seeing its insurance premiums increase 180 per cent in nine years – to $97 million for 2014–2015 – and after repeatedly and publicly expressing frustration over delays in getting its injured public servants back to their jobs.

The territory’s Employment Minister Mick Gentleman said the ACT Government now believes it can get better results for reduced expenditure by going it alone, probably with a commercial insurer underwriting the venture.

Comcare has turned its financial performance around, from a low point of a $687 million deficit in 2011–2012, to a surplus of $54 million in 2013– 2014, but the improvement has been underpinned by sharp increases in the premiums charged to government departments to cover their public servants.

Mr Gentlemen said that his government’s move was not a reflection on the quality of staff or management at the Comcare agency but that the federal workers compensation laws were no longer right for the ACT.

The minister said the ACT wanted to design a new compensation system that put money into getting public servants back to work instead of paying them to stay at home.

“Rather than saying it’s not working, we believe there’s a better way of doing it for the ACT and that’s the road we’ve decided to go down,” Mr Gentleman said.

“The Comcare system is quite burdensome, not only for claimants but for their employers as well.

“The focus we want to see is recovery and rehabilitation for our staff and getting them back to the workplace.

“The studies show that if you get people back to work earlier, their lives are better in the long run.”

A new system would put time limitson payments for medical treatment and allow workers to step outside the scheme and sue the government in court for lump sum compensation.

But there will be no compensation for non-economic loss, commonly known as “pain and suffering”.

Mr Gentleman said the process of consulting with workers and unions on the design of the new system had begun.

The ACT Government has agreed that a new scheme for the ACT public sector should:

  • Enhance work safety, by encouraging all parties to take responsibility for injury management;
  • Promote recovery and return to work by raising awareness about the health benefits of work, focusing compensation services on accelerating recovery and return to work, and supporting employer/worker mutual obligations on return to work;
  • Guarantee quality long-term compensation, care and support for seriously injured workers;
  • Improve cost effectiveness by eliminating payments and services that do not contribute to recovery and return to work;
  • Promote accessibility and transparency, to make the claim process easier and less stressful for workers and service providers.

People with an existing Comcare workers’ compensation claim or who are injured before a new scheme commences are not affected by these proposed reforms. Instead, workers injured prior to the commencement of a new scheme will continue to be compensated and have their claims assessed and managed by Comcare.

A proposed scheme design that accords with these principles has been developed for the purposes of consultation. The consultation period for submissions in relation to the proposed alternate scheme closed on 10 April 2015.