National

Public service compensation claims reach $1 billion

The agency compensating injured public servants has turned around its financial performance even though the cost of taxpayer funded payouts to bureaucrats reached almost $1 billion in the past four years.

Comcare in its latest annual report published Friday reported a $54.6 million operating surplus for 2013-14, despite the cost of compensating hurt public servants continuing to rise.

The cost of claims increased $4.1 million year-on-year to reach $250.5 million in the past financial year.

The yearly cost of injured bureaucrats has steadily grown from $214.2 million in 2010-11 to $222.6 million in 2011-12 and $246.4 million in 2012-13. 

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The number of claims overall has dropped but the complexity and length of injuries needing compensation have increased.

In particular Comcare is dealing with more cases of musculoskeletal damage and psychological injury which can result in lifelong compensation for lost income.

In her letter at the start of the annual report Comcare chief executive Jennifer Taylor said "the impact of claims for serious mental harm has been profound".

Examples of public servants with long-term mental injuries are continually moving through the legal system.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal on Thursday handed down a decision involving a Centrelink employee who developed such a severe psychological ailment he needed his wife to supervise him in stressful situations to help manage outbursts of anger and anxiety.

The public servant was found to have a 10 per cent degree of "permanent impairment" because of threats made against him in his workplace.

Comcare has been concentrating on prevention on mental injuries partly by attempting to get public servants back to work sooner.

This reduces the risk of psychological problems, such as depression, created by time off work.

Comcare's $54.6 million surplus shows Comcare has significantly improved its financial performance.

Two years ago Comcare reported an operating deficit of $687.3 million and followed up in 2012-13 with a $98.3 million shortfall and reforms of public sector insurance have been in the pipeline.

The performance turnaround is due to the increasing of premiums for a number of Comcare's clients which were made up of government departments and agencies as well as the ACT government.

The scheme's long-term liability for payouts is now more than $2.7 billion, compared to $2.6 billion a year ago.

Comcare has stored $68 of every $100 it owes in future liabilities – compared to $64 last financial year – and is attempting to put away enough money to cover all liabilities into the future.   

Complaints to Comcare about a range of issues from delays in payments to a lack of communication increased by a third to reach 690.

Responses to lessen the number of complaints included simplifying letters to injured workers and adding detail to a procedures manual which was now available to clients.

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