National

Public servants put under surveillance as Comcare tries to rein in compo costs

Commonwealth public servants on dodgy workers' compensation claims are being tailed by private detectives as the government continues to rein in the cost of injuries and illnesses among its workers.

Dob-ins by bureaucrats suspicious about their colleagues' claims remained at a historically high level in 2014-2015, according to the annual report of federal workplace insurer Comcare.

The agency says it has clawed back more than $6 million this year through its anti-fraud efforts and put 12 bureaucrats under "covert surveillance" to see if they were really sick or injured.

Comcare's annual report shows that departmental bosses across the Australian Public Service had to find an extra $80 in 2014-2015 to pay their insurance premiums as the policy of making employers financially liable for their health and safety performance continues to bite.

The report also shows that Canberra mandarins are still crying foul over the sharp increase in premium bills, and asking for reconsiderations.

The premium bill to Commonwealth agencies and the ACT government was just under $500 million in 2014-2015, up from $411 million the previous year.

The extra income has helped the agency to an operating surplus of $165 million, a big turnaround from the dark days of 2012 when losses of more than $500 million forced a serious rethink of the public service's generous worker's compensation entitlements.

The get-tough policy embraced in recent years looks to be bearing fruit with 500 fewer public servants making claims in 2014-2015 and with the knockback rate holding steady at about 23 per cent.

But the high number of psychological claims coming out of federal government workplace remains a concern with $22 million added to the ongoing liability figure this yea after an analysis of claims data showed a risk that not enough money had been put aside. 

The agency's liability for future and current claims has grown to $2.8 billion but with its assets position improving to $2.1 billion, Comcare is a step closer to being able to fund its liabilities.

The annual report also discloses a brisk level of activity against fraudsters, with public servants showing a willingness to report colleagues' dodgy claims and the agency quite prepared to prosecute in serious cases.

"During 2014-2015, the Compliance Investigation Unit received 163 referrals for investigation," the report reads.

"This is compared with 178 notifications in 2013-2014 and a historical average of 110 notifications.

"The matters that were finalised in the 2014-2015 year resulted in a reduction of $6.3 million in ongoing claim liabilities.

"There are two matters before the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution for prosecution and sentencing. Comcare continues to actively participate in the Interagency Fraud Forum that it established in early 2012.

"The forum membership consists of agencies with similar fraud risks making payments to medical providers and injured parties."

Comcare is quite prepared to put a "tail" on public servants it suspects of feigning injuries  or illnesses to claim taxpayer-funded payments, but the agency says it adheres to strict guidelines before calling in the private eyes. 

"A cost/benefit analysis is used to determine whether covert surveillance should be used, taking into account the subject's right to privacy," the report reads.

"During 2014-2015, covert surveillance was undertaken on 12 APS employees.

"Of the matters that were finalised during the year, surveillance resulted in three of these employees having the liability on their workers' compensation claims stopped."

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