Independent Medical Examiners

September 15 2010


Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. A.M. Bressington:

 That this council—

1.Calls on the Minister for Industrial Relations to initiate an inquiry into—

(a)the improper use of interstate independent medical examiners, including allegations of—

(i)the use of interstate independent medical examiners in preference to South Australian medical practitioners who are suitably qualified and available;

(ii)interstate independent medical examiners being engaged by claims managers because they are likely to provide a report more favourable to the claims manager's interests; and

(iii)interstate independent medical examiners engaging in unorthodox practices designed to intimidate injured workers;

(b)the allegation that Employers Mutual Limited case managers are intentionally deterring South Australian medical practitioners from working as independent medical examiners by, amongst other things, paying them less than that paid to interstate Independent Medical Examiners and by delaying payment for work completed;

(c)the allegations that Employers Mutual Limited and other claims managers are 'doctor shopping' by engaging multiple independent medical examiners until a report considered favourable is received;

(d)the number of independent medical examinations conducted by interstate independent medical examiners each year over the last four years; and

(e)the number of independent medical examinations conducted and how many injured workers have been required by their case managers to have an assessment by an independent medical examiner each year over the last four years.

2.Requests the minister to table the report on the findings of the inquiry.

(Continued from 23 June 2010.)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:03): I rise today to speak in support of this motion moved by my honourable colleague, Ann Bressington, calling for an inquiry into the use of interstate independent medical examiners by Employers Mutual Limited. They are done ostensibly to assess the injuries and rehabilitation of injured workers covered by the WorkCover scheme.

A number of questions have been raised about these independent medical examiners. Particularly considering that they receive quite considerable payments for their services, these are questions that need answers. I understand that the accusation made that Employers Mutual Limited has been 'doctor shopping' to find practitioners who will provide them with favourable medical reports with these independent medical examiners has been raised in this place and, of course, in the media. These are extremely serious concerns, and it is the opinion of the Greens that measures must be taken to investigate whether there is foundation to these claims. Of course, if there is no truth to these claims, an inquiry will show this. If there is some substance to these claims, then this is an incredibly serious problem that must be addressed.

In 2008 my Greens colleague the Hon. Mark Parnell came before this chamber and was extremely outspoken, and long spoken, about the poor management of the injured workers and destructive changes that were rammed through this parliament under the amendments to the WorkCover legislation. I think this was shameful and I think the current WorkCover legislation is a shameful piece of legislation that devastates families and rips apart people's lives. Many injured workers have had their lives destroyed by this inadequate system and, overall, we must ensure that this system works for those who are the most vulnerable—the injured and the disabled.

Injured workers suffer enough in terms of physical and psychological harm resulting from their injuries, not to mention the difficulties that they undertake in supporting their families or maintaining mortgages and lifestyles, learning to interact with their children and partner in new ways post-injury has added to this, struggling to find some sort of workplace or community participation post-injury. A great deal of self-esteem and self-worth is, of course, tied up in our jobs. Being unable to return to work, or unable to return to a work that you would want, can be debilitating and attack your own self-esteem as well as that of your family.

Perhaps these individuals do not need to see a litany of doctors and keep going to see the doctors until Employers Mutual finds that a suitable report can be written to remove their entitlements. Perhaps that is what this inquiry will find. If we do not have the inquiry, we will never know. Aside from the welfare and wellbeing of injured workers, the scheme raises the questions of the cost to WorkCover of importing suitable medical opinions from interstate, from across the border. I will be interested to hear the evidence about why we use people from interstate at great expense when there are suitably qualified people in our own state of South Australia.

As my colleague the Hon. Ann Bressington mentioned when she spoke to this motion, there has been a number of media reports discussing the cost of flying in interstate medical examiners. I would imagine that we would not have to do that with our local expertise and perhaps that is just one area that the cost could be saved here rather than the cost being saved from cutting people off of WorkCover inappropriately.

The most relevant article was the Sunday Mail article dated 30 May 2010 in which my esteemed colleague was quoted. It cites the cost to the South Australian taxpayers at $3.2 million at the moment to fly in interstate consultants. This is most concerning to the Greens and this is why we are supporting this inquiry. Considering the predicted budget austerity that we are likely to see within the next day, I believe that such an inquiry into the cost of certain practices that seem to be unreasonable is relevant, timely and in the best interests of good government.

The Greens contend that independent medical assessments can be valuable in assessing an appraising the claims of injured workers; however, I also believe the current system as it stands appears to be open to misuse and abuse and the only way we will find that out is to make this inquiry. I commend the motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. B.V. Finnigan.


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