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Pansy Speak: Is ACC covered?

Pansy Speak: Is ACC covered?

You may be surprised to know that being the Opposition spokeswoman on ACC doesn’t mean I avoid the backlash from ACC claimants. I recently received an email from a person who threatened to protest outside the homes and offices of both me and the Minister on various ACC issues.

While reading this email I couldn’t help but reflect on some troubling facts revealed during the recent financial review of ACC, where the corporation paid $100,000 in May and June last year to families of two claimants – because the two claimants involved had already died. Despite a huge contingent of ACC suits filling the select committee room, I was unable to find out the reasons for the delays in processing these claims.

A troubling statistic revealed during the review was the number of ACC staff who earn $100,000 or more a year. In 2002, there were 68 people in that category but that had increased by 109% to 159 by 2007. ACC’s CEO, Jan White, claimed this was normal, according to the data released by the Higher Salaries Commission which monitors the salaries of 40-plus organisations, and put the increase down to more medical advisers and doctors being employed.

Being the naturally inquisitive person I am, I asked ACC to supply more information about the number of doctors and medical advisers employed. Not surprisingly, the answers are still outstanding four weeks after the meeting.

I am keen to know how many doctors and advisers have been employed in comparison to the 34 fulltime media and public relations staff ACC employs, not to mention the extra money they spend on consultants. Of course, the $5 million ‘Covered’ campaign is still fresh in our minds, and last year they spent $2 million on that campaign to promote their monopoly organisation. They must have needed a lot of money to fund the promotional paper fans and peppermints that have been handed out in droves at ethnic festivals! Value for money, indeed!

Jan White disagreed with me once again that all this appeared to be a lot of money to spend to increase their public confidence rating by eight points – if only their actual service could stack up to the same levels.

ACC is also yet to answer why they are spending so much money to evaluate programmes. It’s natural in any business to spend money on reviews, but it’s a tad excessive to spend more than $500,000 to evaluate a Tai Chi programme that aims to reduce falls, given that the contract was awarded for only a two-year period and targeted only 6,500 people a year. I can’t wait to see how much the contract cost compared to its evaluation.

ACC’s chairman, Ross Wilson, also mounted a hefty defence of ACC Minister Maryan Street and her interference in operational matters. She proposed to ACC that it include collective bargaining agreements when working on the contracts for home support service providers. Mr Wilson told the select committee that Ms Street’s proposal was simply an indication of a preference and that ACC had not indicated to her that it would look at it. This was all despite him writing a letter to her saying ACC would develop a policy for dealing with collective bargaining clauses in contracts with providers.

This interference by the ACC Minister is very similar to the action of previous Health Minister, Pete Hodgson, who offered more money to DHBs for contracts with aged-care workers, but specified that collective bargaining be included in the agreements. The courts ruled against this move and stated that “DHB problems and delays were exacerbated by the Minister accelerating and effectively demanding inclusion of a collective agreements clause. In the end, that is probably what wrecked the ship.”

When will Labour ever learn?

Even the Department of Labour (which oversees ACC) has expressed serious concerns about ACC – including increasing rehabilitation costs, increased average length of stay as claimants, and an increasing number of claims. The department says ACC needs to provide an assurance that it is working to improve management of cases and claims and get its costs, particularly for serious injuries, under control. Let’s hope they are more responsive to them than they have been to Parliament.


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