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ACC Minister Ignores Call For ACC Inquiry

Howard’s End: ACC Minister Ignores Call For ACC Inquiry

By Maree Howard

New Zealanders continue to be short-changed by the ACC scheme following the Government's approval of a 3c a litre hike in petrol duty (tax) from July next year, but it's surprising that Automobile Association spokesperson George Fairbairn is reported to have accepted the tax hike to cover what is described as 'skyrocketing' medical costs while the Government refuses to conduct a much-needed inquiry into ACC. Maree Howard writes.

The Government has approved an increase in petrol duty from 2.30 cents to 5.08 cents from July next year to fund ACC. Owners of diesel vehicles will not escape either.

Yet public and political calls for an inquiry into ACC continue to go unheeded by Government.

ACC Minister, Hon Ruth Dyson said; "The increase is primarily to cover better estimations by ACC of long-term costs of rehabilitation and treatment for seriously injured claimants."

"The more you drive, the more likely you are to be injured. Petrol usage is the most accurate indicator of the amount of time a motorist spends on the road and is therefore the fairest indication of exposure to risk," she said.

But eyebrows were raised recently when it was revealed by The Press newspaper that ACC has more than $50 million of levy-payers funds invested in liquor companies and over $100 million invested in Telecom.

For the Government to allow ACC to invest in liquor companies and then use higher road accident costs as an excuse to hike petrol taxes is seen by many claimants and lobby groups to lack scruples, integrity and ethics. ACC has $3.8 billion of investments overall with $1.1 billion held in Government securities. Allegations persist that Government uses ACC levy payers money as a cash-cow to milk for its schemes rather than raise taxes.

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The claim is made that an ACC levy is a tax by a different name and that's why the Government will never willingly authorise an inquiry into ACC when it is able to dip into ACC funds.

Meanwhile, long-term claimants remain adamant they are not receiving proper treatment and social and vocational rehabilitation as required under the ACC law.

Scoop has already reported that ACC has denined claimants things like 10 physiotherapy treatments that costs about $400 which then forces them to review and possibly appeal of the decision. Reviews and appeals are said to cost more than $3,000, plus the claimants cost of a medical report to counter the ACC decision. There can also be lawyers costs on top of that. If claimants win on review or appeal they get the $400 worth of treatment anyway.

Perhaps this is one reason why treatment costs might be 'skyrocketing." Another might be that ACC continues to refer claimants to specialist after specialist to seemingly try and get reports favourable to it in order to dump claimants from the scheme. At a conservative $1,000 a time for each report the costs can quickly escalate when multiplied across the country.

Lawyers call it "surgeon shopping" which was strongly condemned by Judge Peter Trapski in his 1994 report from his "Inquiry into ACC Procedures."

Judge Trapski determined that ACC case managers were aware that the reports of a certain doctor were selective and biased and were instructing him for that purpose.

Some lawyers are also claiming that New Zealanders are, in fact, under-insured for risk of accident because ACC is only required to fund vocational rehabilitation for a maximum of three years. After that, every method is used, including surgeon shopping, to "exit" still-injured claimants from ACC.

One Christchurch lawyer is claiming there is a 'covert policy' operating. He claims that circa 1991/92 the National Government implemented a covert policy directed at long term recipients of weekly compensation.

The covert policy seeks to limit weekly compensation to one to three years before administrative cancellation pathways are applied to remove still-injured claimants from the scheme - including the use of "hit-men" doctors who are biased towards ACC because it pays them.

Scoop has seen a letter written by one prominent medical specialist, who is supposed to be independent, which says that because ACC pays him he owes his duty to ACC - yet the NZ Medical Council seems to be saying that the protection and enhancement of the patient's health is paramount on the first do no harm principle. There is also the requirement for the patient's informed consent before the doctor can do anything at all.

The Government oftens compares Australian accident insurance to the New Zealand ACC "no fault" scheme saying that ours is a better system. While lawyers are big winners in Australia, at least injured people are awarded amounts in keeping with the total of their injury and the effect it will have on the rest of their lives and they can plan accordingly.

In New Zealand the life of an injured person is an on-going battle with bureaucrats to get statutory entitlements which are rightfully theirs and lawyers are now used more frequently to see that they do.

For a "no fault" ACC scheme which was supposed to prevent litigation when the right to sue was removed, the fact that a whole industry of lawyers and medical professionals which are needed to counter each other has developed, seems to have escaped the notice of the Government.

The costs to New Zealanders across the board is huge and it needs urgently looking at.

My Season's wish was that public and political calls for an inquiry into ACC would be announced, that ACC would start providing proper rehabilitation to all injured New Zealanders and those dumped from the scheme would have their cases urgently re-examined.

But nobody listened and, it seems, nobody cares least of all the ACC Minister, its Board and CEO.

Well, at least, I care and I hope the ACC Minister, the ACC Board and the CEO enjoy their Christmas locked in their counting house counting the public's pieces of silver while injured New Zealander's continue to suffer and go without.

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