Jennifer Taylor, Comcare's Chief Executive Officer
During 2016–17 we have remained focused on our strategic outcome—supporting participation and productivity through healthy and safe workplaces that minimise the impact of harm. While this shapes all our business outputs, Comcare is committed to our purposes of being a leading national insurer, national regulator, achieving excellence in scheme management and design, and efficient and effective operations. This year we have also focused on leading the national conversation about the health benefits of good work and driving improvements in work participation.
The Comcare scheme is now fully funded for the first time since 2010 and well ahead of our 2020 target. We believe this is the most significant turnaround for a workers’ compensation scheme ever seen in Australia. The result provides much greater certainty, and we must now ensure the scheme remains sustainable. The average scheme premium rate fell to 1.23 per cent for 2017–18, down 28 per cent on the previous year, and we remain on track to reduce this further in the year ahead.
The results were driven by ongoing falls in the number of claims received and improving return to work outcomes. Claim duration after injury has levelled off and is showing continued improvement in the critical first six months after injury. The scheme is in excellent financial health with the funding ratio of assets to liabilities at 102 per cent and an operating surplus—our fourth consecutive—of $467.4 million for 2016–17. Claims liabilities reduced by $700 million over the past three years and this is confirmation of the trends we have seen in fewer new claims and better return to work outcomes.
To build on this success Comcare will maintain a strong focus on prevention, early intervention and return to and recovery at work, while finding new ways to drive improvement across our operations.
We are continuing to see positive results across the scheme from our ongoing efforts in prevention and early intervention. Improvements by employers in early detection, management of injury and an increase in early intervention actions are benefiting return to work outcomes.
The number of new claims received in the Comcare scheme has reduced by 30 per cent over the past five years, with continued falls across all injury types. Claim duration has levelled off and the number of long-term claims for incapacity has decreased for the first time in a number of years. We are continuing to work with scheme participants to achieve a sustainable and better practice scheme and this will result in further reductions in claim costs.
Comcare maintains the lowest injury incidence rates of any jurisdiction and we are constantly working towards becoming a zero-fatality scheme. In the year ahead we will further embed our compliance and enforcement policy that takes a more proactive, risk-based approach to regulation and empowers the jurisdiction to take more responsibility for its own compliance. We are committed to working closely with employers and employees to provide appropriate and supportive regulation and enforcement to ensure that unsafe work practices and environments are identified and managed early.
Improving work participation
Partnerships across the public and private sectors remain integral to Comcare delivering its outcome. Strong and effective collaboration with employers, employees and industry leaders allow us to leverage our national presence and influence conversations around safety, rehabilitation and compensation.
Comcare’s Health Benefits of Work programme continues to translate and promote the evidence that a timely, supported return to work results in faster recovery from injury and illness and can reduce the risk of longer term disability. Ongoing efforts through this programme include working to increase uptake of a certificate of capacity available to general practitioners (GPs) in the ACT, and supporting GPs to focus on their patients’ capacity for work.
The next phase of this work is Comcare’s Collaborative Partnership to Improve Work Participation for people with temporary or permanent physical and mental health conditions that impact their ability to work. This cross-sector partnership aims to address work participation across the workers’ compensation, superannuation, life insurance and disability support sectors through a national effort by public, private and not-for-profit organisations.
Three projects have commenced in this area and work is well underway. The Cross-sector project is looking at the existing data and services provided across all the systems that support people to work. An Employer mobilisation project, in its initial stage, is a research effort examining employer attitudes and barriers to participation. A third project is building on the existing work of Comcare and others to develop consistent supports for GPs to help people return to work. The Collaborative Partnership is the first real attempt, in the public or private sectors, to work across multiple industries and benefit structures to improve work participation and service delivery.
While we remain committed to being a leading insurer and national regulator, our 2017–18 Corporate Plan has been refined to reflect our strong focus on preparing for emerging issues within the scheme, and ensuring that we are well placed to respond to the needs of our stakeholders in the future. Comcare must be a flexible and innovative organisation to meet the future challenges and opportunities in our operating environment. Priorities for the year ahead include further refining claims management to improve health outcomes, an increased focus on risk-based regulation, and ongoing streamlining of our business systems.