The legal profession needs to help abolish a flawed compensation framework, argues lawyer Rob Bryden
With the end of the Motor Accident Insurers Profit inquiry looming in the air, the window to make the must-needed changes to the NSW Medical Assessment Service (MAS) framework is very small. As far as I am concerned, it needs to be abolished for the good of the legal profession, the good of clients we serve and the good of the insurance industry.
The MAS system is fundamentally flawed and should be abolished. Decisions are made for our clients by medical practitioners in the employment of the Motor Vehicle Accidents Authority, which is a conflict of interest for those charged with making assessments, lacking the necessary independence for fear of losing their own livelihoods. Truly independent decision making is the fundamental basis of the rule of the law.
Within the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999 (NSW) (MAC Act), MAS fortunately has a limited role to play in the CTP Scheme: to assess the 10 per cent whole person impairment (WPI) threshold and certain other disputes. Lawyers are seeing seriously injured clients who get over the 10 per cent threshold having the decision constantly reviewed at the request of the insurers and overturned because the system is not truly independent.
The current Motor Accident Insurers Profit enquiry is too focused on the profits of insurers instead of the limited compensation benefits for those severely impacted by pain and suffering. The $500 each person pays in their annual green slip offers millions of dollars of coverage, which is very affordable and shows the system is generally well run by insurance companies, Motor Accidents Authority and the profession.
The real concern should be on the Government’s Lifetime Care & Support Scheme — which adds a massive $170 on every green slip — has very limited benefit to clients and is fraught by expensive bureaucratic overheads that do little to benefit the community.
Lawyers need to link up with insurer groups and convince the government to walk away from this costly system. We must lobby for change now before its too late and challenge the bureaucracy at work here. Our responsibility is to be vigilant for our clients’ interests to ensure the legal system we operate has fully independent decision making. We need to see the reintroduction of a truly independent decision making system for injured motorists and workers.
We need a review of the currently severe restrictions on injured workers’’ rights in a system where the rights play second fiddle to the bureaucratic expenses involved in sustaining it.
The Workers Compensation system in NSW needs a total review with consideration of allowing the efficient private insurers back into underwriting. This would significantly increase efficiency, reduce the massive overheads and premium pressure as well as allowing fairer benefits for injured workers. Lawyers in my field often struggle to get fair compensation for because they are not in the work place— such as pensioners, students or mothers at home.
The history of the system shows that private insurers do a far better job at a lower cost to the community compared with the present WorkCover bureaucracy. If injured workers are looked after better they are liable to get back to work quicker. At present they are starved back to work or they are their families are starving due to the limited benefits received. They may as well queue up at Centrelink.
The return of worker injury is also the responsibility of the private insurance industry in order to increase competition, improve efficiency and keep premiums competitive.
That is why I will continue to call on the NSW Government to develop a new policy to help the everyday working Australian.
Rob Bryden is a partner at Brydens Lawyers.
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