‘It wore me down’: Chris Iliopoulos on Australia’s troubled workers compensation system

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Last night, a joint Four Corners investigation with The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, found workers compensation schemes in NSW and Victoria are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in what has been described as “immoral and unethical practices” by an industry ombudsman.

Single mother of two, Chris Iliopoulos, was a victim of the Victorian scheme, with her lawyers saying it left her ‘broken.’

In 2012, Ms Iliopoulos was working in a homewares store when she hurt her back moving furniture. Even in excruciating pain, she had to battle for the insurer to approve her treatment.

“All they kept saying to me was ‘you have to wait. You have to wait until we get the okay.’ I’m not asking for a diamond ring or a new car. I’m asking for treatment,” Ms Iliopoulos told Four Corners.

Chris Iliopoulos and her daughter Cleo Gutszmit. Photo: The Age.

Her lawyer, Bree Knoester, managing partner at Adviceline Lawyers, said the insurance company fought her every step of the way.

“It was getting to the point where Chris’ treating doctors… who were recommending treatment, were being ignored by the insurance company managing Chris’ claim,” Ms Knoester said.

“Each time a treating practitioner provided a report, the insurance company got an independent medical report to say the contrary.”

In Victoria, the workers compensation scheme WorkSafe recorded a loss of $823 million last financial year. But there is still money to be made for insurance agents who can meet key performance targets.

Chris was in excruciating pain, yet her insurer ignored her surgeon's advice for treatment | Four Corners

Single mother Chris Iliopoulos was injured at work while moving furniture. Her lawyer says she was broken by the workers' compensation system. Read more: https://ab.co/303zZGl.

Posted by ABC News on Sunday, 26 July 2020

One of the targets is to have workers out of the system or back to work by 130 weeks. That was the moment Ms Iliopoulos’ payments were terminated, even though her treating doctors said she was not well enough to go back to work.

For Ms Iliopoulos, the news was too much. She attempted suicide.

“It wore me down to the point where I became somebody else. I didn’t recognise myself and my thought process was totally different,” Ms Iliopoulos said.

“Her doctors were not being believed. And I think she felt entirely overwhelmed that she was at the mercy of an insurance company who would make decisions contrary to her wellbeing at almost every turn,” her lawyer added.

Ms Iliopoulos challenged the decision to cut her payments. An external medical panel found she was not capable of work and her payments were reinstated.

She eventually accepted a settlement from the insurer and said she’s happy to speak out now to expose the system.

“Who’s going to be held accountable for this you know? If I don’t speak out now, who’s going to say ‘hey you’re doing the wrong thing and people are suffering because of it?’

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