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Mapping the cost of health-related work incapacity

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A Federal Government statutory authority is releasing new research that estimates the scale and cost of health-related work incapacity in Australia. And it looks at opportunities to improve the situation.

Comcare, the Government’s compensation insurer and work health and safety regulator, late last year established an innovative public-private initiative known as the Collaborative Partnership to Improve Work Participation.

It is focused on aligning the various sectors of Australia’s work disability system to deliver better outcomes for people with temporary or permanent physical or mental health conditions.

The Partnership includes the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM), the Departments of Social Services and Jobs and Small Business, the ACTU, the Insurance Council of Australia, insurer EML and experts Lucy Brogden, Chair of the National Mental Health Commission, and consulting Professor Niki Ellis.

AFOEM is leading work to strengthen the role of GPs in improving return to work outcomes for injured and ill workers – including helping GPs prescribe work as part of recovery.

Through a range of projects, the Partnership is working across sectors including workers’ compensation, life insurance, superannuation, disability support and employment services to improve disability employment and return to work rates for people experiencing work incapacity through illness and injury.

It is also the first time all the major compensation and benefit systems have been examined together to identify the flow of people through them, how the systems interact, and where they can be improved to deliver better health and productivity outcomes.

The Partnership commissioned Monash University to undertake the research. The resulting report The Cross Sector Project Mapping Australian Systems of Income Support for People with Health-Related Work Incapacity is now being released.

The study considered data and services across the systems that support people to work – workers’ compensation, disability support, veterans’ compensation, superannuation, life insurance and motor accident compensation.

Among other things, the study found that 786,000 Australians who were unable to work due to ill health, injury or disability received some form of income support in 2015-16.

Also, about $18 billion was spent on some form of income support in that year.

This research sheds new light on how many Australians have health conditions that impact their ability to work, and the cost for employers, Government and insurers. The numbers include 155,000 people in workers’ compensation and 469,000 people in social security.

Researchers also produced a conceptual map of Australia’s income support systems, showing the volumes of people, the types of income support they receive and how they might move through the various systems.

These findings mark the first step in establishing an evidence base in a critical area of public health and social policy,” Comcare CEO Jennifer Taylor said.

“It gives us a basis for improving Australia’s service delivery model for supporting people with work-related injury or disability in their return to work.

“Australia’s benefit and compensation systems are siloed and operate with little reference to each other. There’s growing recognition that what happens in one system impacts others, and the costs often just shift between the systems.

“Considering the sectors as a whole rather than as independent systems will lead to a better understanding of how they operate in relation to each other, how they connect and where gaps or tensions exist.

“It’s clear that taking a cross-system view and a collaborative approach gives us a platform to design and trial new service offerings. We have significant opportunities to improve health and productivity for a very large number of working age Australians.”

Monash University’s Insurance Work and Health Group, led by Professor Alex Collie, was asked to develop a high-level system map of the current Australian service delivery model for supporting people with a work-related injury or disability in their return to work. The project also analysed and mapped system-related data and data gaps.

The project scope included investigating five categories of services: return to work services; healthcare and treatment; job finding or employment services; functional support services; and case management services.

The Monash team mapped 10 major systems of income support in Australia: employer provided entitlements; workers’ compensation (short tail and long tail schemes); motor vehicle accident compensation (lump sum and statutory benefits); life insurance (income protection and total and permanent disability schemes); defence and veterans’ compensation and pensions; superannuation; and social security.

The report estimated the number of people accessing income support and associated costs from each of the systems during 2015-16 and identified opportunities for improvements in the various systems.

Potential improvements include information and data sharing to provide greater understanding of the systems of income support; and better aligning service models – particularly through reforming GP certification and work capacity assessment – to reduce overlap and improve service delivery.

The Collaborative Partnership is considering these recommendations and working towards addressing the opportunities for change. Members are already examining ways to improve data sharing between the various compensation and benefit systems to get a better understanding of how they interact and how they can work together more effectively.

CHRIS JOHNSON

 

The Cross Sector Project report can be found on the Partnership’s website:  http://www.comcare.gov.au/collaborativepartnership 

PICTURE: Comcare CEO Jennifer Taylor launching the Collaborative Partnership to Improve Work Participation.

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