The following article raises some interesting points such as why WorkSafe Vic (Workcover Vic) insurers can’t organise for the independent examinations to be conducted in regional hubs; why isn’t it the examiners who are required by the insurers to travel to these regional centres to examine injured workers? And that it cannot possibly be financially prudent to pay the travel expenses of eight or more injured workers, which is how many could easily be seen by an IME in one day, rather than the travel expenses of an IME and the cost of room hire….!
All pain and no gain for an unfair WorkSafe scheme
Imagine that one day, you go to work and you move an object.
Contrary to work policy, the object has not been tagged as heavy but in fact weighs 40kg.
You experience a shooting, sharp pain in your back, you crumple and your work mates come to your assistance.
You can’t straighten up as you are in too much pain and an ambulance is ultimately called by your distressed employer.
The ambulance takes you to Geelong Hospital where, after scans and pain injections, you are told that you have a prolapsed disc in your spine.
Pain medication allows you to leave the hospital and you attend your own GP who will now manage your treatment.
You are referred by your GP to a neurosurgeon who recommends that you undergo spinal surgery.
The neurosurgeon must now write to your employer’s insurance company for approval of your proposed surgery.
The insurer is not a doctor and therefore must inform itself to ensure it is making financially pragmatic decisions for the long-term benefit and health of the WorkCover scheme.
So, before approving or denying your neurosurgeon’s request, you attend an appointment with an “independent medical examiner”.
The purpose of your attendance with the examiner is to provide information to the insurer about medical questions relevant to your claim so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to approve and pay for the requested surgery.
It all sounds perfectly straight forward, doesn’t it?
Well it is, unless you live in regional Victoria.
If you live in Geelong, to attend an appointment with the examiner, you must travel to Melbourne.
Now remember that you have recently suffered a disc prolapse. You have significant back pain. You wince getting in and out of a chair, your wife is assisting you in tying your shoe laces each morning.
You have pain like an electric shock that shoots down your leg when you walk.
You are miserable.
Assuming that a friend or family member can take time off work to transport you to Melbourne for the appointment, you will suffer more than an hour of discomfort, pain and stress while you travel to Melbourne, find a park and walk to the appointment. Then you have to repeat it all again on the trip home.
If no friend or family member is available and you cannot drive yourself, you must travel by public transport and taxis.
This travel is an unnecessary burden on people who are already injured and in pain.
It cannot possibly be saving the system money.
I understand and respect that one of the pillars of WorkSafe is to ensure financial responsibility and the continued financial viability of the scheme.
This is not being achieved by requiring injured workers to travel to Melbourne for these appointments.
Every time a worker travels, their reasonable travel expenses are ultimately reimbursed by the insurer at a cost to the scheme.
In addition, the WorkCover system pays a worker’s weekly payments at a reduced rate to the worker’s salary. As most people’s lives are geared to their income, being injured means they are already surviving on less income than before they were injured.
These expenses may at first seem small but three hours of parking in Melbourne recently cost me $82, add to this the cost of petrol to and from Geelong and the worker has spent close to $100.
It is a significant personal and financial burden that the worker simply should not have to bear if the insurers for WorkSafe were putting the experience of the worker before the experience of the examiner.
– Rachel Schutze is a principal of Maurice Blackburn Geelong, a wife and mother of three.