Howard's End: ACC’s Official Response Scrutinised
By Maree Howard
The Accident Compensation Corporation is yet again under public scrutiny over its official response to concerns expressed by claimants during a nationwide Day of Shame protest held on 18 March. Maree Howard writes.
Hundreds of injured ACC claimants and disaffected levy-payers staged a nationwide Day of Shame protest on 18 March over the way ACC is operating and denying claimant's their valid and lawful entitlements.
One claimant, diagnosed with chronic regional pain, sleeping and psychosocial problems by three different specialists since January last year, has been waiting for treatment since then. The ACC case manager ignored the initial medical diagnosis 14 months ago from its own medical assessor, and then starting finding all sorts of excuses why the treatment could not be funded which had officially been applied for by the hospital last November.
The case manager also refuses to modify an individual rehabilitation plan to include the treament which is able to be done under the legislation. The modification needs to be made because the plan was held by a reviewer last year not to be an individual rehabilitation plan at all because it contained no entitlements. The claimant then wrote an rehabilitation plan in January this year to include the treatment and other rehabilitation entitlements and sent it to ACC but that has also been ignored by the ACC case manager and branch manager. The only alternative left is to go to formal review which puts the claimant and the family to further stress, inconvenience and mental distress.
An orthopaedic surgeon has informed Scoop that the on-going pain and electric shocks from this injury - an injection needle inadvertently piercing nerves when numbing the arm before an operation which scarred the nerves - would be like continually plugging your arm into the national electricity grid.
Scoop is also aware of other claimants who are still waiting for rehabilitation aids and appliances after more than 18 months. One is still waiting for shower alterations but meanwhile continues to injure himself by falls. He alleges mis-management of his claim with his case manager ignoring the report of the occupational therapist who was sent to assess him for the shower. His is a long history and Scoop understands his lawyer is to file a misfeasance in public office claim against ACC and eight of its former and current employees next week.
Following the Day of Shame protest, ACC Chief Executive Garry Wilson wrote in a 25 March memorandum to protest group leaders, ACC advisory groups and interested pliciticians and spokespersons: "ACC has a very strong and well enforced set of corporate values. Dishonesty is not tolerated, nor is anyone denying a claimant their true entitlements."
Mr Wilson also wrote " ACC case managers are well trained. There is a comprehensive weekly internal staff training programme, a formal monthly coaching programme, monthly external supervision and training in negotiation skills. This is supported by a rigerous internal and external audit process - and we do take notice of comments."
Claimants are now questioning the honest, integrity and lawfullness of such undue influence, bias and unfair practice. Why do ACC employees need to be supervised and trained in negotiating skills, they ask?
Claimant support groups say statutory rehabilitation entitlements as assessed to be needed by an appropriately qualified person must not open to negotiation like in some flea market bazzar or horse trading.
It's now clear that injured people are being enticed into meeting with ACC staff who Mr Wilson now reveals are trained, skilled and supervised in negotiating practices. Claimants are said to be losing their weekly compensation if they do not attend such meetings although no such authority seems to exist in the ACC legislation to do so.
What seems to be forgotten is that ACC claimants are already under financial pressure in receiving only 80% of their previous wage. Couple that with the mental and physical consequences of their injury and the last thing injured people want is to be confronted by a skilled negotiator whose only purpose seems to be to deny claimants their rights to lawful statutory rehabilitation and compensation entitlements - otherwise, why do ACC employees need such negotiation training and supervision?
Another point which is raising the hackles of claimant groups is the adversarial approach adopted by ACC where it is being alleged that case managers shut their ears to reasonable concerns.
Mr Wilson says in his memornadum that ACC takes steps to implement all court decisions on ACC claims. "ACC also takes note of judicial comment made on its policies and procedures and, where appropriate, ACC amends its procedures to reflect such comment." he wrote.
But claimants have produced evidence to Scoop which shows that even adverse decisions given by its own review office, Dispute Resolution Services Limited, is still being ignored by case managers after some 18 months. The ACC record of ignoring the Courts interpretations of the law is even worse with cases of settled law going back as far as 1990 but ACC still uses the flawed methods.
The adversarial approach adopted by case managers is inappropriate for public organisation's who must have regard to their public interest functions, claimants say.
As a supposedly model litigant acting in the public interest ACC must endeavour to avoid litigation wherever possible and not use the multi-billion dollar power of the public purse in its possession to attempt to overwhelm justice. While ACC is required by law to make cost effective and administratively efficient decisions that is not necessarily the case.
Concerns are also being expressed that ACC is too willing to jump into litigation at either review or appeal instead of doing the right thing and make sound decisions in the first place. Its own accountability documents highlight this as a financial risk to its operations. Yet it still appears willing to do so even though ACC has to pay for all ACC reviews and appeals in the District Court from the $2.2 billion of public money it gathers annually from levy-payers.
Scoop has seen letters from case managers which say "since you have applied for review I am unable to comment further." That adversarial attitude is wrong, unlawful and absolute nonsense. It needs squashing by ACC Corporate office, but it does not seem likely.
Despite Mr Wilson's assurances about
case manager training and comprehensive audit, supervision
and coaching programmes the reality at the coal face for
some claimants is quite different.