Troubled insurer iCare criticised for ramping up spending on consultants
Embattled state insurer iCare has been accused of wasting money on consultants that could have gone to sick and injured workers after it splashed almost $5 million on consulting fees.
iCare spent $4.8m on contracts and allocated more than $11.5m for consultancy work in the 2020-2021 financial year, even after it was warned it had been too dependent on consultants.
A major review of the troubled compensation scheme found it relied too heavily on consultants to advise on, and in some cases make decisions about, how it was spending money.
iCare’s financial statements reveal it increased its budget for consultants by about $6m in the 12 months to July compared with the previous year.
An iCare spokesman said the increase “links directly” to its remediation program, which will see it pay $38 million to 53,000 people who were affected by payment calculation errors.
But injured workers have lashed iCare for ramping up its spending on consultants while they are struggling to survive.
Sydney woman Grisel Carreira, 48, has been in a “bureaucratic nightmare” with iCare for three years, after alleged workplace bullying left her with psychological injuries and saw her leave her job at a Sydney university.
Ms Carreira, who runs a support group for about 200 injured workers on iCare, said many of them were dubious about how the insurer spent money.
“There are people who have to sell their house because they can’t afford where they live, people who have no food to put on the table for their kids,” she said.
“Then in contrast you see iCare spending all this money on things that aren’t the main purpose of their business.
“I’m really trying to move forward, but I’m finding it really hard.”
A permanently injured worker in regional NSW, who asked not to have his name published because of concerns it could jeopardise the support he receives, echoed similar concerns.
“All I say to people is when they do hurt themselves and they find themselves in this situation, is to get themselves a very good solicitor,” he said.
“You’re always chasing people, you’re always on the phone. You get that frustrated with it you don’t know what you can do. You shouldn’t need a lawyer to get help.”
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said it was inexplicable that iCare had doubled its expenditure on consultants at a time when they’re meant to be reducing their reliance on consultants.
“You can understand iCare seeking help from consultants once or twice a year, but how can they explain 57 separate contracts in just one year?” he said.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said it seemed like injured workers were not the priority.
“The government should have the capacity to be able to do this work in-house and it shouldn’t be paying doubled for what skilled professionals in the public sector should be doing,” he said.
An iCare spokesman told NCA NewsWire that prior to any consulting spending, it checked the work needed to occur and whether there were internal resources with the skills to do it.
He said iCare was determined to get people back to work , but the effects of the pandemic, including a steep rise in psychological claims, were hindering insurers across Australia.
“Our absolute focus is ensuring the best possible care and support is provided for injured and sick workers,” he said.
iCare executives and the NSW government have vowed to reform the scheme following intense media scrutiny that triggered several inquiries into its practices.
Treasurer Matt Kean told parliament last month the government had accepted all of the recommendations from a major independent review and would implement them next year.
iCare reported a $1.4 billion underwriting loss in the past year, taking the total accumulated loss of the past three years to $6 billion.
NCA NewsWire has sought comment from Mr Kean.
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