Victorian Bill to Introduce Provisional Payments for Workers' Claim on Mental Injury
Tuesday 1 December 2020 @ 3.07 p.m. | Legal Research
On 26 November 2020, Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy introduced the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Provisional Payments) Bill 2020 (Vic) (“the Bill”) into the Legislative Assembly.
The Bill seeks to amend the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic) and additional acts to establish a provisional payments scheme for mental injuries sustained in the workplace. The scheme will allow for early access to treatment and help in supporting the recovery of workers with a mental injury. The Bill will deliver an election commitment from the Government, and follows on from the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry Report on mental health (“the Commission Report”) and the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (“the Royal Commission”), which highlights a growing need to reform the mental health care system within Victoria. The Bill has yet to pass the lower house.
Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health
On 7 October 2018, the Federal Government committed to establishing a Productivity Commission Inquiry into the matter of mental health and its role in the Australian economy. The inquiry was to consider how mental illness affected an individual’s quality of life in all aspects, including their physical health, employment, and financial status. Furthermore, it was to report on its impacts on the economy through its effects on businesses, hospital system, and social services. The Productivity Commission was then to provide recommendations on how the Government can improve mental health, and so improve on social and economic participation.
The final Commission Report was submitted to the Government on 30 June 2020, and was publicly released on 16 November 2020. Overall the Productivity Commission found that reform of the mental health system would be highly beneficial to both the quality of life of Australians and the Australian economy. The Commission Report calculated that positive changes to the current system could result in greater economic participation, amounting to an economic benefit of up to $1.3 billion.
Generally, the Commission Report recommended reforms that:
- Focus on prevention and early intervention and assistance
- Improve provision of the correct healthcare services in a timely manner to those with mental illness
- Provide for effective services to support recovery in the community
- Ensure seamless care at all levels of service and care
Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System
In late 2018, the Victorian Government established the Royal Commission. The terms of reference for the Royal Commission were discussed in an earlier TimeBase article. The Royal Commission’s interim report was released in November 2019, with the final report to be submitted by February 2021. In its interim report, the Royal Commission found that a series of serious issues with mental health services in Victoria, including:
- Poor investment within the system, with grossly disproportionate investment in mental health compared with physical health
- Difficulty for individuals in need to gain access or find appropriate services
- Lack of equality in gaining access to services with income, insurance, and location being key determinants to receiving help
- Lack of investment and attention to the mental health of the younger population leading them to be more adversely affected
In order to address these issues, the Royal Commission determined a number of matters that require the immediate attention of the Victorian Government, including:
- A new approach to funding and revenue in order to ensure greater investment in mental health
- Additional mental health beds for people in areas of need in order to meet demand
- Development of opportunities in order to expand and develop the workforce for mental health services
Amendments under the Bill
Mental injury claims takes an average of 27 days to be determined, compared to the 7 days insurers take for physical injury claims. As a result, workers can take up to five weeks to access the treatment or support they need, impacting their recovery and ability to return to work. The Bill proposes a number of amendments to address these delays and promote the prevention of long term claims.
The Bill seeks to provide injured workers with access to payments for reasonable medical and like costs until their workers’ compensation claim for mental injury is determined. Even if their claim is rejected, the payments will continue for up to 13 weeks from the date they are deemed eligible for the provisional payments.
Allowing a 13 week window in failed claims allows the Government to support injured workers in the following scenarios:
- Claims that are initially rejected due to insufficient medical evidence, but becomes subsequently overturned
- Claims that are rejected, and are then disputed through the Accident Conciliation and Compensation Service
- Claims that are rejected to return to work and transition into the public health system
In order to further mitigate delays, the Bill seeks to introduce a new requirement for employers to notify their insurer of mental injury claims within three business days. Injured workers will then have access to reasonable medical and like expenses within two business days of their employer lodging their claim with their insurer.
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Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Provisional Payments) Bill 2020 (Vic) and explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne service