Workers compo changes amended after medical, legal backlash
The state government has ruled out approving controversial changes to workers compensation guidelines after they were criticised by the medical and legal sector, but concerns about the reforms remain.
Return to Work SA, the regulators of South Australia’s return to work insurance scheme, earlier this year recommended Treasurer and Industrial Relations Minister Rob Lucas tighten the Impairment Assessment Guidelines (IAG) which injured workers are assessed against to determine whether they are eligible for compensation.
Under the guidelines, if a worker’s injury affects more than five per cent of their bodily capability, they’re entitled to a lump sum payment.
If their injury affects more than 30 per cent of their bodily capability, they are deemed “seriously injured” and are entitled to ongoing income payments as well as a lump sum payment.
Among the most controversial of the more than 70 changes recommended by RTWSA was a 10 per cent deduction from an injured worker’s assessment if they have a pre-existing injury.
This prompted concern from legal groups that some injured workers could miss the threshold for compensation due to an asymptomatic ailment such as bone or joint degeneration.
Another contentious recommendation proposed limiting post-surgery injury assessments to surgeons, rather than workers choosing their own doctor or an occupational physician to examine their injury.
The proposals were criticised by the South Australian Law Society, Australian Lawyers Alliance and the Australian Medical Association, with the latter questioning what medical advice underpinned the post-surgery assessment recommendation.
Lucas, who is authorised to approve changes to the guidelines without the need for legislative review, announced yesterday afternoon that he had decided not to pursue RTWSA’s recommendations on pre-existing injury deductions and post-surgery assessments.
He said of the 70 proposed changes to the guidelines, more than 30 were amended due to submissions made during the four-week consultation period and subsequent
“Ultimately, the updated Guidelines will provide greater clarity for all those involved in the worker’s compensation process, in particular workers and doctors,” Lucas said.
His office also highlighted five “additional protections” in the updated guidelines which will “improve fairness and transparency”.
- ensuring RTWSA can’t direct a worker to choose a particular impairment assessor,
- ensuring RTWSA can’t direct an assessor to change their clinical opinion,
- ensuring assessment appointments are not delayed due to long waiting lists.
The full 148-page updated guidelines were published in the Government Gazette on Tuesday.
Labor was due to table a bill today giving Parliament the power to veto changes to the IAGs.
Opposition industrial relations spokesman Kyam Maher said it was “unbelievable that this government would ram through changes to workers compensation the day before the Parliament was due to debate this issue”.
“Despite the government extending the consultation period and amending 30 of its 70 proposals – many changes are bad for injured workers and could leave them worse off.”
Australian Medical Association SA Branch President Dr Michelle Atchison said the association was “surprised” to see the changes gazetted yesterday.
“We had requested a meeting with the Treasurer to talk about our concerns with the guidelines but we hadn’t had a response to that request,” Atchison said.
“Now to find that they’ve been gazetted it comes as a surprise.”
Atchison said the AMA would be able to make further comment on the changes once they had met with their RTWSA advisory group to examine the new guidelines in full.
She said on initial reading the AMA was pleased the surgeon assessment requirement and 10 per cent deduction for pre-existing injuries had been removed.
The Law Society of South Australia also said it would have to analyse all 148 pages of the new guidelines before it could make a comment.
“The whole stakeholder engagement process has been quite flawed – it hasn’t given us enough time they need to look at changes that were proposed,” Atchison said.
The four-week public consultation period on the reforms ended on June 25, after RTWSA issued a 129-page draft review for feedback from stakeholders on May 28.
Lucas said he had approved a “broader consultation process than required by the legislation”, including two months of meetings with stakeholders after the initial consultation period closed.
“In addition to consulting with 13 medical associations, we invited more than 120 individual accredited impairment assessors, the Law Society of SA and the Self-Insurers of SA to provide submissions,” he said.
SA Unions Secretary Dale Beasley said that “double deductions” remain in the new guidelines, meaning previous compensation paid for the same injury site will be deducted from the worker’s compensation payment.
“Workers are of course pleased to see some of the proposed changes dropped in their entirety,” Beasley said.
“But the Treasurer’s attempt to sneak other cuts through, buried in technicality, undoes any goodwill.
“The Treasurer’s double-dipping double deduction rule is the perfect example.”
Australian Lawyers Alliance SA President Sarah Vinall said the amendments gazetted on Tuesday were an improvement on the original proposal in June, but “it will take some time for us to fully understand the extent of the changes and their impact”.
“We are pleased that a number of our concerns have been addressed, for example, we are pleased to see that the automatic 10 per cent adjustment for a pre-existing injury has been removed,” she said.
“However, we remain very worried that some of the revisions will substantially reduce the compensation offered to workers who are injured at work.
“We are also disappointed that these changes were rushed through via a back-door method that avoided parliamentary review and debate.
“We asked for further information and medical information to support the proposed changes but this was never provided.”