Two of the minor figures exposed by the royal commission remained cloaked in darkness in Friday.
The names of a case manager and a senior case manager at insurer TAL who, in the words of senior counsel assisting, Rowena Orr, QC, were “on a mission” to stop a nurse from getting payments under her income protection policy, are subject to a non-publication order. Their names are redacted from the documents shown to the commission.
Lucky for them. On Friday morning, Orr shows yet another email from the case manager’s pursuit of the nurse, who suffered depression in 2010 and has fought an eight-year battle with TAL.
“This woman has defrauded TAL for years,” the case manager thundered in a 2014 email as TAL pushed to reclaim some $69,000 from the nurse.
But as TAL’s witness, general manager of claims Loraine van Eeden, agreed, there was never any fraud – despite TAL going to extreme lengths to find it, including paying a private investigator $20,000 to follow the nurse over a four-month period.
Still, it’s unfair to blame any two TAL staff for the treatment of this nurse.
As Orr took the commission further into the nurse’s case study, it become clear that multiple staff at multiple levels of TAL, over multiple years, had been involved in what Orr described as a “plan, at any point possible, to find a way to stop paying this insured benefits”.
On Thursday afternoon we heard how the nurse’s original claim was denied, before eventually being paid following a complaint by the nurse to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
But after putting the nurse under surveillance, and discovering she had a tiny home business – which the nurse had disclosed – TAL ceased payments and tried to recover $69,000 it had already paid.
The nurse again complained to FOS and won. But TAL fought the FOS decision every step of the way, including bringing in a “strategic consultant” named Anthony Whyburn, who told his TAL masters that he believed that “with more work their should be a sound basis to decline this claim in the future”.
TAL eventually accepted the FOS decision. But in September 2016, the unnamed senior case manager started again asking questions about the nurse’s case.
Eventually a TAL executive questioned the senior case manager’s approach and suggested her entire portfolio of claims should be reviewed.
But van Eeden revealed to the commission that the senior case manager remains employed by TAL, and has not suffered any disciplinary consequences as a result of the handling of the nurse’s case.
“We have provided training,” van Eeden told Orr.
The persecution of this nurse has continued. She’s been subjected to various “administrative errors” from TAL including in May receiving a letter telling her she actually needed to pay TAL premiums.
The reason this case study was so traumatic, and TAL’s behaviour so poor, was summed up by a report from a psychiatrist who was asked to interview the nurse at TAL’s request.
“The levels of suspiciousness, feelings of oppression, loss of trust and social withdrawal have all worsened considerably,” he reported.
We can forget that these case studies are real people, who have suffered real damage – damage that the psychiatrist said was unlikely to ease even with treatment.
Incredibly, despite all the evidence of all the staff involved in TAL’s fight to deny this claim, van Eeden wouldn’t concede that TAL’s misconduct had exacerbated the nurse’s condition. She admitted only that the insurer had caused her stress.
Eight years. Eight years this nurse has suffered at the hands of a company that knew she did nothing wrong, and should have supported her.