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Choice to suffer: ACC privatisation

NEWS RELEASE NZ Society of Physiotherapists

Choice to suffer: ACC privatisation

Many accident victims will have the choice to suffer their injuries or to pay for rehabilitation themselves, if ACC is privatised. This is what "choice" in workplace accident insurance means, physiotherapists say.

"We saw it last time ACC was privatised," said Jonathan Warren, President of the New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists. A survey commissioned by the Department of Labour in 2000 showed that the number of injury claimants dropped off by up to 40% during the time of privatisation.

Patients were so confused about how to claim coverage for their accidents that they sometimes just gave up in frustration, which resulted in chronic conditions. Alternatively, sometimes they delayed seeking treatment and therefore hindered their recovery. Some employers reportedly deterred workers from making claims in case premiums increased, and the same fear put off the self-employed. Some employers reportedly pressured workers to say their injuries were not work-related. More claims were declined, as insurance companies denied responsibility.

"Patients were caught in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare as physios and other providers struggled to see what company covered them," Mr Warren said. "It often took heaps of paperwork and phone calls to find out which insurance company insured any particular patient. Then sometimes the company would refuse to pay and we were left trying to claim from the poor patient. Also, each insurance company allowed different numbers of treatments, often a very limited number, before prior approval had to be sought, leading to delays in rehabilitation."

This situation would probably worsen as time went by, Mr Warren said. "Picture an individual who has been injured at various times – say, at two different workplaces with different insurance companies, and once while playing sport. Can you imagine how hard it would be for that individual to get coverage for ongoing problems, as each insurer passes the buck?"

Mr Warren pointed out that the last time ACC was privatised there were eight insurance companies plus ACC involved in workplace insurance. One of those companies was HIH which collapsed in Australia in 2001. "Imagine if HIH had still been operating in New Zealand workplace insurance when it went broke," said Mr Warren. "What would have happened to all those workers? Or would the New Zealand taxpayers have picked up the tab as the Australians did ($5.3 billion)?"

An increase in bureaucracy and in compliance issues is the last thing the health sector requires, Mr Warren pointed out.

ENDS


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