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icare warns of virus impact on return-to-work metrics

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NSW state insurer icare says the COVID-19 pandemic and related business disruptions will make it more difficult to achieve targeted 26-week return-to-work timeframes for injured employees.

The outbreak has caused a reduction in suitable duties available to previously injured workers, while the number of new claims has also declined as many workers have faced reduced hours or been stood down.

“These are significant challenges which are placing pressure on return-to-work rates,” Group Executive Personal Injury Elizabeth Uehling said.

“Despite this, we remain focused on doing everything we can to support workers and employers in the current environment, and keeping return-to-work rates as stable as possible.”

The 26-week return-to-work rate improved over the second half of last year and into early this year to reach 82% in March and April. It’s expected to remain stable for the short-term before being negatively impacted over coming months.

Access to telehealth services has expanded so workers can receive as much treatment as possible during the pandemic, but a halt to elective surgery from late March to late April has caused delays.

“This pattern we are experiencing of lower claims and injured workers’ longer time off work is consistent with previous economic downturns,” Ms Uehling said.

“In response, we are working closely with our claims service partners to maximise opportunities for injured workers to rejoin the workforce.”

icare also says it has been monitoring the claims experience in New Zealand, where there has been a significant increase in mental health issues as restrictions are eased and people return to the workplace.

“This is another key challenge for employers as they support a workforce that has increased anxieties and has been subject to significant personal and employment change,” Ms Uehling said.

icare has welcomed efforts from the State Insurance Regulatory Authority to develop operational return to work assistance programs.

The number of active claims was 43,492 in April, down from 44,773 in March and the lowest level since June last year.

The percentage of calls answered within 60 seconds reached 93%, with icare noting more proactive case management has reduced calls from customers seeking information on their claim’s progress.