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icare rejects 'misleading, inaccurate' criticism

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NSW state insurer icare has rejected "misleading and inaccurate" claims about the performance of its workers’ compensation scheme and says it has worked tirelessly since it started five years ago to transform a broken system.

“We stripped incentives paid to scheme agents to return injured people back to work prematurely, we controlled doctor shopping and we took control of the data and the way claims are managed,” it says in a statement today. “NSW is fundamentally different."

The insurer says an investigation by the ABC Four Corners program and The Age/Sydney Morning Herald raises historical issues and many have been previously addressed.

Injured worker underpayment problems pre-date icare, and it’s now estimated the number of people impacted is 5000-10,000, rather than the 52,000 initially predicted, while it stresses there is no risk to scheme solvency.

“The schemes are fully funded and not driven by profit,” it says. “This is why we have been able to keep average premiums at 1.4% of wages since we started and why they remain on hold when our customers need it most.”

NSW Opposition Finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey says Treasurer Dominic Perrottet should sack icare executives over the issues highlighted, which include alleged poor treatment of injured workers and the referral of matters to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

“I think he needs to replace the leadership of icare at first instance,” Mr Mookhey told ABC radio in Sydney. “The Treasurer needs to act, and act decisively.”

A statement read out from the Treasurer’s office said Labor had left worker’s compensation in “a mess” and the Government had undertaken a once in a generation program to overhaul an adversarial and broken system that had complicated and outdated processes.

“The management team and the board have been instrumental in driving this change and seeking to strike a fairer balance between providing for injured workers and meeting the needs of employers,” the statement said.

The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) last year commissioned an independent review of the workers’ compensation scheme, with employers, business groups and the insurance sector among those making submissions.

The report made 13 recommendations for improvement and SIRA issued its own 21-point action plan.

“We continue to support the efforts of SIRA to make sure the recommendations of that action plan are fully implemented,” National Insurance Brokers Association CEO Dallas Booth told insuranceNEWS.com.au today.

‘Brokers remain concerned that issues that have been well known for some years are still occurring.”

The NSW Parliament Standing Committee on Law and Justice is currently examining the worker’s compensation scheme as part of legislation requiring a regular review. Hearings were scheduled for today and Monday.

Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW President Joshua Dale says the hearings should look closely at the behaviour of icare.

“Lawyers assist injured workers negotiate the workers’ compensation scheme every day,” he said. “As a result, we are well aware of systemic failings in the system, however, the alleged unethical conduct and financial mismanagement exposed in these media stories is extremely disappointing.”