A former Department of Health employee has had her workers’ compensation claim rejected after asking her employer to pay thousands of dollars for remedial massages and osteopathy treatment for a post-traumatic stress disorder.
Elaine Topping began working for Medicare in 2004 before shortly moving onto the Department of Health and Ageing where she worked in the area of Aboriginal health.
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In 2009, Topping said an “unpleasant” relationship developed with her manager, resulting in allegations of bullying and an argument in an elevator.
Soon after the incident, Topping took time off work and made a claim for workers’ compensation.
The department’s insurer, Comcare, accepted liability for Topping’s anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder at the time.
A year later the former employee moved to Queensland, and in 2014 Comcare said it was no longer liable to pay for Topping’s remedial massages and osteopathic treatment.
Up until that point Comcare had spent more than $7000 on 145 remedial massage sessions and $359 on osteopathy appointments for Topping.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia heard the future lifetime cost of Topping’s treatment would be around $67,000, not including the cost of travel.
In a statement to the tribunal, Topping said she needed physical therapy because parts of her body go numb, swell and “become extremely painful”.
“This makes it difficult for me to drive or do other tasks that require manual dexterity and I often drop things and burn myself,” she said.
“The physical tenseness I suffer as a result of my psychiatric condition causes my jaw and facial muscles to tense. I suffer from teeth grinding and probably bruxism at night … the daily anxiety that I suffer as a result of my accepted condition is a real problem for me. I am reliant on the medication my doctors have prescribed for me and on the physical therapy that helps relax me when I get tense as a result of my condition.”
However, in the final ruling, deputy president Gary Humphries and Dr Bernard Hughson said the evidence indicated remedial massage and osteopathy were “not reasonable” for treating Topping’s injuries.
“We find that the massage and osteopathy treatment, the costs of which are claimed by Ms Topping, though it qualifies under s16 of the Act as medical treatment obtained in relation to her injury, is not reasonable treatment obtained in relation to that injury,” the tribunal said.
“Accordingly, we affirm the decision of Comcare made on 15 April 2014.”
Employment lawyer Peter Vitale told SmartCompany the former employee’s case was weakened due to medical evidence.
“Although the tribunal found that the massage and osteopath were of some assistance to the employee in relieving the symptoms, they accepted the medical evidence that they were not effective treatments for her underlying condition,” Vitale says.
“Against that background, the question then became whether or not it would be ‘reasonable’ for Comcare to continue to pay for treatments which only relieved symptoms.”
Vitale says the tribunal found the evidence in this case suggested the former employee’s remedies had become “a ritual” that fostered dependence.
“Combined with the fact that there was no measurable impact on her underlying condition, the tribunal concluded that the ongoing treatment was not reasonable,” he says.
A spokesperson for Comcare declined to comment, saying Comcare does not comment on individual cases.