ACC payouts for death

June 9th, 2013 at 8:40 am by David Farrar

Rob Kidd at Stuff reports:

A woman conned $125,000 out of ACC by claiming she was the distraught widow of a man crushed to death in a building accident.

In reality Auckland woman Brunetta Hemi had dumped the man, walking out on their de-facto relationship five years before his death.

But when she heard that Waepeke Ruihana Tupaea had died, she contacted the undertaker and told him she was still Tupaea’s partner, then filled out a claim with ACC.

It saw her paid an immediate survivor’s grant of $5653 and she qualified for weekly compensation for the next five years. She drew the payments for nine months, then opted for a lump sum payout that saw ACC deposit $125,341 into her bank account.

Tupaea, 61, died in June 2009 when he was part of a crew moving a house on to a marae in the Auckland suburb of Manurewa.

A bulldozer hit the house, causing it to fall, killing Tupaea and 24-year-old workmate Marsh Terahi Wiri Peihopa.

The fraud is one issue. What interests me more, is the policy rationale for a relatively large payout for death by accident.

I’m all for ACC which covers income while people recover from an accident.

But should ACC be a form of life insurance?

Certainly I say it is appropriate to have some payout to family as it takes some time to adjust to the loss of an income earner. But five years of payments?

If your partner dies of a heart attack, you get nothing beyond any insurance policy they had, and general welfare insurance.

If they die of an accident, you get five years of survivor’s grants.

I’m really not sure how you rationalise the difference.

Wanting $4.7 million from ACC

May 23rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Shane Cowlishaw at Dom Post reports:

A man who helped dozens of people with their ACC claims says the corporation has driven him into bankruptcy and depression.

After more than 20 years of acting as an ACC advocate, Mike Dixon-McIver has spent the past six years locked in a battle with the corporation after it tried to prosecute him for fraud.

That case was thrown out and a judge awarded Mr Dixon-McIver, of Upper Hutt, full legal costs. But the corporation has refused to go to mediation to discuss damages.

This has infuriated Mr Dixon-McIver, who at noon today will host a barbecue protest outside the corporation’s head office in Wellington to publicise his plight.

He plans to camp outside the office until ACC agrees to meet him.

“Nobody has said ‘we’re sorry’, nobody, and that’s the first thing I ever wanted from them.”

Adding to his frustration, he and wife Jolene will be forced out of their home on Friday after an option to buy the property expires.

He sent ACC a starting figure for damages and losses of $4.69 million, including sums for loss of earnings and impact on his mental health.

You want $4.7 million from ACC levypayers because of a failed prosecution against you that didn’t even go to trial?

Good luck with that one.

Incidentally Mr Dixon-McIver seems to have had some compensation issues of his own, after the Employment Court ordered him to pay three months salary and $6,750 for distress, humiliation and injury to feelings to a former employee who was constructively dismissed after he threatened to assault her, following his son assaulting her.


17 years on ACC

May 17th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Hutt Valley man who was filmed walking around a supermarket while claiming he needed a wheelchair has lost a battle to get his ACC payments back.

Wiremu Brightwell had appealed against a 2010 ACC decision, stripping him of his disability allowance.

But in Wellington District Court Judge David Ongley found he “probably wilfully exaggerated his symptoms and presented a severe disability that was not caused by his covered personal injury”.

Up until 2010, Mr Brightwell had cover for an injury from 1993, when he was hit on the side of his head by an exploding tyre and rim.

ACC medical adviser Martin Robb examined him in 2010, and told ACC that, in his opinion, Mr Brightwell was “malingering”.

“He did not appear to be in pain, but on entering the surgery in his wheelchair appeared to be very moribund, unable to operate the controls of his wheelchair,” Dr Robb said.

“Despite his apparently moribund state, he was able to answer questions quickly and appropriately with a clear but quiet voice.”

Although Mr Brightwell claimed to be largely bedridden, he had “good musculature with no sign of muscle wasting”.

Even if Mr Brightwell does need to be in a wheel chair (which is doubtful), there are jobs you can do from a wheelchair. Many wheelchair bound people can and do work.

Should ACC be extended to illness?

March 19th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nicole Pryor at Stuff reports:

Sick people are more likely to be out of work and have money problems than injured people, says new research.

A study from the University of Otago, which has been published in Social Science & Medicine, compared over 100 stroke victims under 65-years-old with 429 people who had a similarly debilitating injury.

Both groups were followed for one year to compare their standard of living under the ACC system and means-tested benefits.

Under the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), injured people could get up to 80% of their weekly wages while recovering, as well as treatment and rehabilitation support.

Sick people could get treatment costs, but no compensation for lost wages beyond limited means-tested benefits.

There is a huge variation between those who have accidents and those who are sick. This even extends to situations that if you are born disabled (say with one leg) you get far less support than if you lose a leg in a car crash.

McAllister said at the very least there needs to be better income support for people with illnesses.

“For years people have been saying how unfair this is, the two quite different systems, and that just because someone has the misfortune of having an illness, rather than an injury, they have greater financial consequences.”

She said another option could be to extend ACC to cover illnesses.

While the disparity is a problem, the proposed solution could be more of a problem.

The first is that ACC premiums would increase massively. Every employer and employee would be paying more into ACC.

The second is that the whole basis for ACC was for accidents, and the no faults system was in return for removing the possibility of expensive lawsuits to determine compensation. That rationale does not apply for sickness. You can of curse get income protection insurance to cover the possibility of lost income due to illness.

Is it better to have one government run income protection scheme for illness that is compulsory or competing ones that people can choose to be in?

Finally look at the growth in even the sickness benefit by those who prefer not to work (of course not all or even most, but a significant minority). Think of the incentives if the sickness benefit is effectively set at 80% of your previous earnings? Especially consider that many people are on the sickness benefit due to alcohol or drug addiction. Do we really want to pay people 80% of their previous wages to remain an alcoholic or drug addict?

[UPDATE: According to MSD 7% of sickness beneficiaries are there for substance abuse, so not as many as I thought. Still a reasonable number. Also around 40% are due to psychological or psychiatric conditions which may have a substance aspect to them as the data records primary reasons only – not all reasons.]

So yes there is a disparity and a problem. But the solution is not extending ACC to illness. There could be merit in taking a more integrated approach to accidents and illness but it has to be an affordable one that doesn’t provide bad incentives.

The right decision

March 13th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Shane Cowlishaw at Stuff reports:

An embalmer who was forced to counsel the grieving father of a suicide victim has been denied ACC cover because it was not the only harrowing incident of her career.

The woman, who cannot be named, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2009.

Her routine job involved collecting the bodies of people who died naturally, but occasionally she would be called to police scenes such as murders and suicides.

In 2007 she attended a scene north of Auckland where a young man had hanged himself.

The police and victim support were unable to get his father to release the body, so she sat and talked with him, eventually persuading him to help in getting his son on to a stretcher.

But a police officer then threw the rope on top of the body, causing further distress to the father.

The woman continued to work as an embalmer until 2009, when she resigned and lodged a claim for mental injury. She was shocked when ACC declined it.

Under section 21B of the ACC Act, a claimant can seek cover for a work-related mental injury that is not linked to a physical injury.

However, it must be related to a single traumatic event, and ACC argued the woman’s condition was the cumulative effect of a number of sad or distressing events she had had to attend.

I’m glad to see this decision, because what makes ACC less sustainable is the way it has inevitably expanded from its core role, which was to provide income to people who injured themselves while working – while they recovered.

It was never meant to be  general counselling service for the entire country.

I’m not trying to be unsympathetic, but if you choose to be an embalmer (I could never ever be one) then it is highly likely you will see a lot of dead bodies including homicide and suicide victims. And yes it will be traumatic – but it is not an accident.

Mallard and Little fold

November 14th, 2012 at 5:14 pm by David Farrar

Adam Bennett at NZ Herald reports;

ACC Minister Judith Collins’ defamation action against Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little has been settled following a hearing in the High Court at Auckland today. …

In a statement today following their meeting, the three parliamentarians said they agreed “the leak of the email Ms Boag sent to the minister and forwarded on her instructions as the responsible minister to the chairman and chief executive of ACC raised an issue of serious public concern, and that Messrs Mallard and Little were entitled to question who was responsible for that leak”.

“The parties continue to differ over whether the comments made by Messrs Mallard and Little respectively on Radio NZ implied the minister falsely assured the House that neither she nor her office was responsible for the leak.

“Messrs Mallard and Little have confirmed to Ms Collins that was not their intention and wish to make that clear publicly that in the event such meaning was taken they regret it.”

In the statement, the three politicians said they would make no further comment.

If Mallard and Little had said that a few months ago they could have saved themselves a lot of money.

“Not that sort of person”

November 10th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mr Fieldsend contacted the Herald to tell his side of the story after ACC used his comment about shooting as an example in a story published on Monday about the rise in threats received by the organisation.

Mr Fieldsend said he told a call centre worker the case manager was “lucky I didn’t have a gun because I would have shot her” when he called to complain about her upsetting behaviour an hour after their first review hearing in August last year.

“I don’t have a gun on me, I’m not that sort of person, I don’t have a criminal record or anything,” he said.

He doesn’t sound contrite at all. he claims he is not the sort of person who would actually shoot someone – he is just the sort of person who would tell someone’s colleague he would have shot them if he had a gun.

How would the ACC staffer know about whether he has a  criminal record?

Little advocates huge increase in ACC costs

November 6th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small reports:

Labour ACC spokesman Andrew Little is urging his party to remove an “injustice” in the no-fault scheme by extending it to cover incapacity caused by illness or disease as well as accident.

First of all Andrew is correct that there is a disparity at the moment. If you are born disabled with only one leg, you get nothing from ACC. If you lose a leg in an accident you may get payments for life.

But his solution is massively expensive. It would lead to dramatic increases in ACC levies. It means that if (for example) someone was grossly obese and couldn’t work anymore due to their diabetes – they would get ACC payments based on their former salary for life. This would be far more costly than the Invalids Benefit.

Likewise as drug addiction is an illness, drug addicts would get ACC compensation rather than a benefit.

There is merit in looking at combining together the ACC and Welfare systems to remove the “injustice” but doing it by merely extending ACC to everyone with a temporary or permanent incapacity is likely to prove hugely expensive. It would mean a drop in take home pay for every employee and an increase in employer premiums.

He is also calling for it to dump the fully-funded model, which sets levies to cover the future cost of current injuries.

I’m against this also. Apart from the accounting argument, the benefit of having premiums reflect the full cost of current injuries is that it acts as a fiscal deterrent to widening coverage (as Labour did multiple times when last in Govt) because the premiums increase more under full funding (to reflect the full cost). It is all too easy under pay as you go to keep adding things into the scheme because the immediate impact on ACC finances is low. But the long-term impact can be quite massive. Basically full funding means that the Government is less likely to keep adding on extra costs to employees, employers, taxpayers and motorists who fund the scheme.

Wanting more money from ACC for privacy breach

September 30th, 2012 at 3:30 pm by David Farrar

The SST reports:

Sex abuse survivors are planning to sue ACC to force a significantly boosted payout for breaching their privacy in the ongoing Bronwyn Pullar whistleblower saga.

ACC sent apology letters in June to sensitive-claims clients and offered to pay them $250 if they agreed to stay silent, after one of New Zealand’s biggest privacy breaches in August last year.

The “insulting” offer came after ACC mistakenly released the names and details of 6500 claimants, including 250 sensitive-claims clients who are victims of sexual abuse and violent crimes, to claimant Pullar.

Wellington lawyer John Miller, a specialist in taking on ACC, said more than 100 claimants affected by the massive Pullar breach had approached him to take the case. He said those wanting to pursue ACC were sensitive claimants who generally had long simmering feelings of being poorly treated by the ACC system.

Although a claimant with a normal injury could shrug off the privacy breach, for sensitive claimants “this is the last straw”.

“It’s a corrosive environment they are in with ACC, frankly. The people I have spoken to, they are insulted by $250, it is a derisory amount for the torment they have gone through.”

Worse was ACC’s requirement that claimants sign a confidentially agreement if they took the payment. “They feel they are being told ‘now go away and shut up and sign a document to say you are going to shut up forever more’.”

He said that although technically class action claims were not possible in New Zealand, the process worked with one claim taken and if it won it set a precedent. ACC would be asked to settle with everyone, or face losing case after case with legal costs compounding the settlement payouts.

He said the process had worked before and usually ACC saw sense.

Miller would not be drawn on what level of compensation would satisfy claimants, but said past privacy breaches had won payouts of anything from $2000 to $40,000. It depended on the severity of the consequences.

In 2003 he said ACC paid $8000 for sending a man’s earnings details to his wife, resulting in divorce because he had kept his income secret from her.

A large amount is appropriate when there has been significant harm from the privacy breach.

But bearing in mind it is employees, employers and motorists who will effectively pay for any compensation, let us look at the harm done in this breach.

One person in Auckland, a stranger to all these people, was sent a spreadsheet with some details about them. The report into the breach details what this info was:

  • Client Name
  • Claim Number
  • Branch handling claim
  • Review number

No information beyond that was disclosed. So yes it did breach privacy by revealing they were a client of ACC, they they were having their claim reviewed, and which branch was handling their claim – which can reveal it was a sensitive claim.

This is not inconsequential, but neither it is in any way detailed. And this was a breach not on a website, but to one person.

I’m not convinced the offers of $250 is inappropriate.

ACC is now welfare

September 18th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Marty Sharpe at Stuff reports:

The number of families of suicide victims granted support from ACC has declined since changes to legislation in 2010.

A woman whose daughter took her own life after suffering an abusive relationship said the changes meant surviving family were not considered victims.

The woman said her 21-year-old daughter took her life in Christchurch in November 2010. She left behind a young son.

The woman, now a sickness beneficiary and living in Wellington, had been struggling to pay the $7000 for her daughter’s funeral.

She sought help from ACC but was told the corporation no longer provided cover for families of suicide victims, unless the suicide was due to a mental injury caused by physical injury, sexual abuse or a work-related mental injury.

“I’ve got it [the funeral bill] down to about $4500 . . . It’s just been devastating. It really has. I don’t think people know what it’s like. Anyone in that situation needs all the help they can get,” the woman said.

Losing a loved one to suicide must be one of the most devastating things that can happen.

However it is not the role of ACC to fund funeral costs for those who kill themselves. The original intent of ACC is that if people get injured in an accident, they kept receiving their work income, and had medical costs covered.

If low income families are unable to pay for the funeral costs of a family member who has died, then the appropriate support should be via WINZ – and as I understand it there are such grants.

But we must change ACC from being a universal funder of everything bad that happens to someone, to what it was set up for.


You want fair, but not a soft touch

September 16th, 2012 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

Work and Income is using “chequebook doctors” to move sick claimants off welfare, advocates say.

State insurer ACC has been criticised for paying medical assessors to examine long-term clients, and lawyers and claimant groups have questioned the assessors’ independence, calling them “hatchet men and women”.

Now those charges are being levelled at Winz. Critics say it is operating a similar system by employing almost 300 “designated doctors” to assess beneficiaries.

Advocates will of course have a negative view of anyone who disagrees with their clients getting the benefit they want. They often have a philosophical view that anyone should be able to get welfare, with no work testing.

A key difference with ACC is there is legitimate criticism that some of the ACC designated doctors do nothing but ACC cases, and are dependent on ACC for most of their income. WINZ has 300 designated doctors who reviews 3,000 cases a year so the average doctor does one case a month.


ACC doctors

September 8th, 2012 at 9:46 am by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin reports at Stuff:

ACC is spending millions of dollars flying doctors around New Zealand to assess long-term clients who have already been assessed by other doctors.

The policy has been slammed by John Miller – one of the country’s top lawyers specialising in ACC legislation – who said the so-called “independence” of some assessors was a sham.

ACC lawyers, advocates and claimant groups know those doctors as “hatchet men and women”, Mr Miller said.

I’m not to keen on the airfares, but I do think there is a place for independent assessors, and in fact if you ask many GPs, they will say they find it useful to have them also.

The reality is that it can be very difficult to ascertain how genuine some injuries such as back pain is. And the local GP can come under huge pressure from patients whom they see on a regular basis to give them the benefit of the doubt. They will often say they doubt the symptoms but can’t prove it.

The independent assessors don’t have to maintain a long-term relationship with the person, so  don’t get pressured so much into giving the benefit of the doubt so to speak.

Now I am sure there are some independent assessors who are too harsh, and there is a danger they get into a mindset of refusing all claims. But I would be very wary about anyone who advocates with doing away with the entire system of independent assessors.

What I would be interested in is data on each assessor (not named) and how often they disagree with the original assessment. That data would show you if some are being too zealous.

The ACC reports

August 23rd, 2012 at 4:04 pm by David Farrar

Two reports out today on ACC. One from the Auditor-General and one by the Privacy Commissioner. Both individually and jointly they are fairly damning. Some extracts from the AG:

When Ms Pullar met Mr McCliskie in September 2011, the issues that she raised with him were arguably general issues about ACC, rather than (or not only) specific to her claim. However, the matters that ACC investigated because of Ms Pullar’s approach to Mr McCliskie focused on its handling of her claim.

In our view, the matters that Mr McCliskie recorded in his email of 14 September (illegal access to files, incompetent ACC specialists, fraudulent activities by ACC staff) are areas of risk with which a Board should be concerned. That was Mr McCliskie’s original reaction.

We looked for some reporting back to the Board, or to Mr Judge and Mr McCliskie, on the issues raised by Ms Pullar. This included issues raised at her meeting with Mr McCliskie, in her emails to Mr McCliskie of 14 and 15 October, and in the list of 45 issues presented at the 1 December meeting. We did not find any evidence of this.

We have some observations about why ACC might have failed to appreciate the risks arising from the privacy breach and the allegations of systemic wrongdoing.

In this environment of change and transition, Ms Pullar’s allegations, and the privacy breach in particular, were not recognised for the risks they presented. We have no view as to whether Ms Pullar’s wider allegations are in any way justified. We have not inquired into
those matters. However, we consider that accusations of systemic illegality and fraud are issues that any public sector organisation should take seriously.

Both Directors acted unwisely in my opinion, and as the AG noted they failed to seperate out the operational issues raised by Pullar (which were for management) and the more general allegations of wrong-doing, such as privacy breaches.

I can’t do quotes from the Privacy Commissioner report as some idiot has set the pdf, so you can not copy and paste text. Grrr, that pisses me off. Why would you set a public document to not allow copying extracts. Don’t you want the extracts to be accurate rather than retyped?

The overall assessment though was ACC had no strategies in place to properly manage data and privacy, which led to a history of privacy breaches and complaints.

I would note that ACC Minister Judith Collins has already seen a significant personnel change at board level, and instructed ACC to focus on restoring confidence in how it deals with data and privacy.

The response from Judith Collins is above. I think the reports vindicate the decisions she has taken to date.

Collins on ACC and privacy

August 13th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Hartevelt at Stuff reports:

ACC Minister Judith Collins wants the state insurer to start sacking staff who breach a new “zero tolerance” policy on privacy breaches.

A furious Ms Collins has revealed her astonishment at the failure of ACC to include privacy among nine of its “top priorities”.

“I’m not going to sit back and let one of the most important government entities [that] we have let people down time and time again around things such as privacy.

“They have to act in the way that I expect them to act. When I go around the branches, most of the people there absolutely understand it.

“But, actually, a few are letting them down and when we have things like the audit and risk committee having nine priorities for the year and not one of them [being] privacy, how can that be acceptable given everything else that’s going on?”

Ms Collins’ comments come as figures from ACC show 11 staff members have been reprimanded over “serious misconduct” since 2010.

The breaches involved: theft; fraud against ACC or a claimant; serious misuse of ACC property, including information and systems; dishonesty; disobeying a lawful and reasonable instruction from a manager; and any act that had the potential to bring ACC into disrepute.

Nine staff were sacked as a result of the breaches and two were given final written warnings.

Ms Collins said while the serious misconduct cases were “a shame”, she was pleased they were taken seriously and not covered up. “I think that they need to be – and they are now – taking on a culture of zero tolerance to privacy breaches, in particular,” she said.

Police had a “zero tolerance” approach to staff accessing private details about people without good reason.

“People lose their jobs over it, and that’s something that I think ACC needs to have, which is that we have people’s very personal information, we should treat it with respect and should understand it’s a very privileged position.”


Gareth Morgan on ACC

July 10th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Gareth Morgan writes at NZ Herald:

Sir Owen doesn’t like the fact that we have different levies to reflect different accident rates in different industries or with different kinds of vehicles.

His assumption is that people naturally take all care necessary and don’t need financial incentives – higher levies – to self-manage their risk. Sadly that is a sweeping assumption that has been shown to be wrong.

The history of the world teaches us that incentives matter.

My own experience with the wonderful world of ACC over the last 18 months has involved trying to understand what has been driving the bills for on-road motorcyclist injuries through the roof.

That work has revealed that we could do this a lot better. Already the annual relicensing bill for larger motorcycles is more than for cars, and that’s despite the fact that the average bike traverses way fewer kilometres a year than the average car.

In fact research we’ve done at the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Council indicates that the risk of serious and expensive injury on a motorcycle is around 45 times higher per person-kilometre travelled as it is for occupants of other vehicles.

Ouch, that is a huge difference. It is right then that motorcyclists should pay higher premiums, rather than motorists subsidise their accidents.

It gets worse. We also found that up to 31 per cent of our injuries arise from incidents involving no other vehicles. In other words we do this to ourselves because we can’t handle the road conditions.

Now of course we can blame the road as some of us are wont to do, but the reality is in most cases it’s pure incompetence or lack of self-management.

Any charging regime that gives riders an incentive to ride within their level of competence, to self-manage risk by wearing better protective clothing for example, or even lifting competency levels has to be a win-win doesn’t it?

Sir Owen might say no, that all care and no responsibility is the right ACC model and motorcyclists’ natural preference for self-preservation is sufficient.

But he’d be wrong and the rocketing bill is the evidence.


At present we are charged for our ACC cost on a per-bike basis. Even though you can only ride one motorcycle at a time, the more bikes you have the more you pay.

It’s some sort of wealth tax I guess but it bears no relation to the risk of injury.

Of course we do the same with cars but given that the cost to ACC of motorcycling injuries is way more per rider than it is for other vehicle types, this disjoint between risk and negative reward (the premium) is material.

The conclusion I reached, once I got to grips with what was happening in the motorcycling injury scene and what is driving ACC’s bills in this area, is that it’s pretty obvious that the levy should be charged per rider – say through an annual rider licence renewal fee.

This makes sense to me. Not sure about the practicalities, but ideally all of the vehicle insurance funding should be based on the driver, not on the number of vehicles.

Here’s a first pass at what I’d do:

* Introduce a no-claims bonus – the annual rider licence fee should be discounted for the number of successive years you have maintained your motorcycle licence but had no ACC claims.

* An excess – there needs to be a limited discount on the annual rider licence fee available to the extent you are prepared to self-insure. All riders should be liable to pay say the first $200 of any ACC claim – this at least gets rid of expensive but trivial claims. Then as well as that, a discount should be available, say up to 10 per cent on your licence fee, if the rider is prepared to foot the bill for a further $500 of injury claims.

* A break in maintaining your annual rider licence renewal should trigger a user-pays relicensing process. Obviously by imposing the ACC levy via an annual renewal of your riding licence there is a strong incentive for riders who aren’t intending to ride not to renew that class of their licence. That’s a good thing because it enables the gate to be controlled for returning riders to ensure their competency levels are adequate. Injuries to returning riders have been a source of much angst and expense. The extent of the relicensing required should depend on how long a break from riding has been taken.

* A limit to the income replacement component to ACC’s entitlement claims can be opted for by the rider when they relicense each year. It is a fact that riders with high salaries who get injured cost us a hell of a lot more in the levies we pay. Why don’t we put a limit on income replacement, or impose an additional levy if you want income replacement above a certain level? That would reduce significantly this component of the entitlement claims made on ACC that the rest of us are compelled to fund.

All good ideas worth considering.

Under this regime those who got their motorcycle licence years ago and haven’t ridden for yonks, or at least relicensed every year, face hurdles getting back on the bike. We know returning riders are a greater injury risk and we need them to be adequately competent for the bike they get on when they return.

By switching from ACC levies being imposed on the bike to imposing them on the rider we can control the gate on who is competent to ride a motorcycle. A five-year break, say, would require a full testing process again. Shorter breaks might demand a rider training course.

Yes this is a further assault on Sir Owen’s incorporation of accident insurance within the social welfare regime.

But then unbridled social welfare without limits, where accountability is a dirty word, is a very poor piece of social engineering anyway.

The key with ACC is to achieve the benefits of avoiding litigation, so retaining the benefits of universal entitlement but all the while providing incentives for self-management.

Hear hear.

Herald on ACC

July 2nd, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A sensible editorial from the NZ Herald:

The careless language and loose accusations in ACC’s internal exchanges were probably the reason the minister took drastic action. It was an insight into a culture that has been been too hard on some categories of claim, especially those requiring surgery, as Herald investigations had found. Too many rejections of those claims have been reversed on appeal.

But it would be too easy to replace that culture with one at the other extreme. ACC cannot be an automatic entitlement with no questions asked. It is an unusual system, copied by no other country, in its uncritical attitude to the cause of injury. “No-fault” compensation may be a good way to save lawyers’ fees but the same unquestioning principle could not be applied to medical assessments. When ACC seeks a second opinion, though, its medical officers must not influence it as they clearly tried to do in the Pullar case.

ACC is funded by employers, motorists and taxpayers as insurance against sudden disability. It offers cover that ordinary commercial insurance provides elsewhere. Since New Zealand has to be competitive it is vital that ACC’s costs are not out of line with workplace insurance in other places. It has to ensure it is paying out only for genuine injuries and for loss of income only for as long as the claimant is genuinely unable to work.

Exactly. You don’t want ACC assuming all long-term claimants are rorting the system, but equally you don’t want ACC just paying out lifetime earnings to anyone who thinks they are eligible.

As a public insurer, ACC has to be rigorous.

But it should also be sensitive, fair, considerate and dignified in its dealings with people and its discussions about them.

That is as far as the culture change need go.

It is a tough balancing act, but that is it – to be rigorous and fair.

Neuropsychological testing and ACC

June 29th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

ACC’s methods are again under the spotlight after it confirmed using “neuropsychological and psychological assessments” to help decide if claimants were being straightforward.

That came to light yesterday after claims it uses “lie detector tests” to see if claimants are telling the truth.

Claimant Margaret Read told Radio New Zealand that ACC would not believe her statements of brain and spinal injuries, nor evidence from specialists, and applied a lie detector test.

An ACC spokeswoman declined to comment on an individual case, but said the no-fault insurer did not use lie detector tests.

Asked if any of its processes could be interpreted as a lie detector test, she said that was subjective. “What seems to be being referred to is the use of measures in neuropsychological and psychological assessments to provide some indication as to whether the client is presenting in a straightforward manner; that is, not under- or over-reporting their symptoms,” she said.

“Neuropsychological assessments administer tests which look at the client’s cognitive functioning (thinking functions such as language, attention, speed of thinking, memory, flexibility in thinking and problem solving skills).”

They were used to help indicate whether “clients are either minimising or exaggerating their emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depressive symptoms”. This was also to determine whether the assessment results truly reflected a client’s current emotional functioning.

When a client displayed evidence of a lack of effort, under-reporting or exaggeration of symptoms, ACC would try to determine why “and then provide the appropriate help the client needs to progress in their rehabilitation”.

Labour ACC spokesman Andrew Little said he was “gob-smacked” by the practice, which was evidence of the distrust ACC had for claimants. “It sounds like lie-detecting to me.”

I’m sorry but this is getting rather hysterical. This happens to be an area I know a wee bit about as I am related to a neuropsychologist. Neuropsychological assessments of head injured ACC clients has been happening since at least the 1980s. This is nothing new or unusual.

The assessments are not lie detector tests. They test damage and capacity of cognitive ability.

Of course the tests are designed to measure actual ability and damage, and can detect if people are exaggerating damage. That is why you get expert medical assessments. But that is not the primary purpose of the test, which is to assess capacity. It is like saying seeing a general practitioner is a lie detector test about your back pain.

Again these tests have been done for several decades, as far as I know.

Questions Radio NZ did not ask

June 28th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Radio NZ did an interview with a Dave Wooley on ACC this morning. I suspect they are going to interview a disgruntled person a day. Now I think it is fine to interview disgruntled people with ACC, but media should be balanced, and actually ask questions, not just allow one side of the story – especially as ACC can not talk about individual cases in the media generally.

Mr Wooley had a work related accident in 2006 and has just gone off ACC compensation. Radio NZ said his family of six now live off his wife’s salary of $26,000. For a start this is clearly false. They would get WFF of $363 a week (net) on top of that, plus possible accommodation allowance.

They also reported he gets $23 a week benefit and claims that half of that is $11.50 a week to live on. Radio NZ reported this as fact, and never asked him about WFF.

Not only did Radio NZ fail to ask about WFF, and allowed the repeated assertion of a family of six surviving on $26,000 a year, they did not ask a single question about why he was no longer getting ACC. No question about what the medical assessor determined.  No question on what the independent review by Disputes Resolution Service found. No question about anything – just allowed him to say whatever he likes unchallenged.

I have said that some parts of the ACC culture do need changing, and they do. But this does not mean you accept without challenge every claim by every individual who thinks they should receive ACC support. That is not journalism. Next time I hope Radio NZ at least attempt to ask pertinent questions.

The ACC $250 offers

June 28th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Some of those who have been offered $250 compensation from ACC for the privacy breach, have said it is not enough and they want more.

The problem is that it is not really ACC that is paying them $250. It is me and you, and employers and employees all around the country. It is not the staff or managers who made the breach, or the directors of ACC.

I don’t like my premiums having to go on privacy breach settlements. I pay them to help injured workers. Why should I have to fund mistakes by ACC staff?

Surely I should be given the choice to choose an alternative workplace accident insurer? Why should I have to keep funding a company that is a monopoly, and one that I can’t withdraw my business from?

ACC and Welfare

June 23rd, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The proportion of long-term ACC clients moving on to benefits has surged since the corporation adopted a tough new stance, which has fuelled allegations that they are being forced off compensation before they are rehabilitated.

That may be the case, it may not. Let’s look at the numbers.

But yesterday’s figures show that the proportion of long-term claimants leaving ACC and going on to health-related, unemployment or domestic purposes benefits rose sharply from early 2009.

In the five years to 2008, the proportion going on to benefits was 12.1 per cent, but during 2009 that rose to 16.4. In the first five months of 2010, the most recent data held by ACC, the proportion rose to 19.4 per cent.

ACC figures also showed the corporation had reduced the number of long-term claimants on its books by 3644 or 25 per cent to 10773 in the three years since June 2009. That reduction is well ahead of ACC’s targets.

Okay so 3,644 people have gone off ACC, and 19.4% have gone onto welfare. First of all that presumably means 81% or 2,937 are now in employment which is a good thing.

Of the 707 who have gone onto welfare, the data suggests 441 would have been on welfare under the previous trend. That means an extra 266 have gone onto welfare.

At a macro level, an extra 266 on welfare for an extra 2,937 back in work seems pretty reasonable. But this shouldn’t really be about the macro level. In an ideal world no one would be declined ACC support who genuinely is unable to work due to an injury, and no one would remain receiving ACC support who is capable of resuming full-time work after their injury. There will always be some in both categories, and the aim should be to minimise both.

Of the 266 extra people on welfare, a key thing might be what benefit have they gone onto. If they have gone onto an invalid’s benefit or even a sickness benefit, then it suggests there could well be a problem. If however they are on the unemployment benefit, then that may just be because the jobs market is still subdued.

So that data is interesting and worth investigating more. But it is not conclusive of itself.

Very Little proof

June 21st, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

 ACC bosses laid a police complaint alleging blackmail by claimant Bronwyn Pullar and Michelle Boag after being pressured by their minister Judith Collins, Labour MP Andrew Little says.

In a general debate at Parliament this afternoon Mr Little claimed that during a meeting between ACC Ralph Stewart, chairman John Judge and Ms Collins in Auckland the day after a massive privacy breach at ACC was revealed, Ms Collins told the two men to “go after Michelle Boag”.

“She urged and pressured and pressed the chief executive and chairman of the board to make a complaint to the police and that’s what they did”.

It seems Andrew has learnt one lesson. He has refused to repeat this claim outside the House, so is hiding behind parliamentary privilege.

If he had been able to produce even one shred of evidence for his previous claims about the Minister, then one might give him the benefit of the doubt on this issue. But we’re all still waiting for his proof.

Anyone can get up in the House and claim anything about another MP. They have a legally privileged right to do so. but it is an abuse of that right if you do not have some proof for your assertions.

ACC levies

June 19th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small reports:

ACC is in line for a major shake-up, with the two major parties eyeing changes that could see premiums plunge by up to 25 per cent.

Labour is rethinking its ACC policy, and could scrap the fully funded model to revert to a “pay as you go” approach – and yesterday ACC Minister Judith Collins refused to rule out a similar move.

During last year’s levy review, the Cabinet agreed to “a review of the funding policy for the ACC accounts and the reasons for the fluctuations in the projections of the ACC’s accounts”.

Ms Collins said ministers were looking at the funding policy “which could include the stability of the scheme, good process for levy setting and the impact on the economy”.

“We’re not ruling out anything at this stage.”

Labour leader David Shearer said a possible change had not yet been discussed by caucus.

But the party’s ACC spokesman, Andrew Little, said it was time for a public debate about funding options, with recent controversy highlighting ACC’s overemphasis on lowering costs rather than meeting claimants’ needs.

Under full funding the corporation builds up reserves to cover the current and future costs of existing claims, and is aiming to reach that goal by 2019.

Under a pay-as-you-go approach, it would need only enough income in a year to cover annual claims, plus a possible buffer for unexpected costs or disasters.

Mr Little said his “back of the envelope” calculation was that levies could be cut by 20 per cent to 25 per cent if there was a move away from full funding.

While it would be nice to have lower levies, such a move is a false economy which really just leaves the next generation with a huge unfunded liability. Levies should reduce because ACC is managing to rehabilitate people back to work faster, not due to accounting changes.

ACC’s revenue for a year should roughly match the liabilities it incurs in that year. That way there is security for long-term ACC recipients, and we don’t leave a huge bill for future generations. The benefits of paying for the full costs as they incur is that we can then make rational decisions about what ACC covers. When that cost is partially hidden by leaving it to the next generation, it encourages reckless spending.

The Press on ACC

June 15th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

Some change at the ACC is plainly necessary. The row between Pullar and the organisation intensified when ACC accidentally sent her an email that included files containing confidential information about many other ACC clients.

It has since emerged that such inadvertent disclosure of private information has occurred on a number of occasions.

Given the amount of highly sensitive information the ACC holds about individuals, it seems extraordinary that, so many years after email became the most common means of communication, the organisation still cannot manage it without this kind of blunder.

Other government entities that hold confidential private information – the Inland Revenue Department and Work and Income, for instance – seem to be able to do so.

Some comments made in messages between ACC personnel handling Pullar’s case have also emerged that indicate a kind of cavalier dismissiveness towards her.

These remarks have understandably been seized on as reflecting ACC’s general attitude towards its claimants.

There is no evidence that this is true but even if the comments are not at all widespread, they are deeply unprofessional and should not be tolerated.

Absolutely. I am amazed the person who made them is still working there.

Whatever other shortcomings might have occurred during his chairmanship, Judge has done that. ACC’s net deficit last financial year was reduced from $10.3 billion to $6.7 billion and it is on target to meet its legal obligation to be fully funded by 2019.

Financial viability is crucial if ACC is to survive as a no- fault accident compensation system and meet its obligations to claimants.

It must be run as a sound business. It is right, for instance, that claims are examined rigorously so that they may be dealt with fairly.

Any “change of culture” that would turn ACC into some sort of soft-hearted arm of the social-welfare industry, as some critics appear to imply, would be a backward step.

As an employer I endorse this also.

Clifton on Little

June 15th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Jane Clifton writes:

There is one thing worse for an Opposition MP than getting knocked back on an application for a snap debate in Parliament on a subject embarrassing to the Government – and that is being granted a snap debate when you are not expecting it and suddenly having little to say.

That was the fate yesterday of Labour’s Andrew Little, who must have felt like the dog that chases cars, but cannot think what on earth to do on the day one obligingly stops and surrenders. He had to get up and speak about the Government’s ACC woes for 15 long minutes, and by the time he had lamented the running down of the corporation, upbraided the Government for being beastly to claimant Bronwyn Pullar and her friend Michelle Boag, and demanded ACC Minister Judith Collins be sacked, he had started to repeat himself rather forlornly.

Not a good look to call on the Minister to resign for doing exactly what you asked her to do!

But, in time, the fabled Labour machine swung into action. Frontbencher David Parker took out a pad and started scribbling large-print notes, which he passed behind him to Trevor Mallard, who appeared to proof-read them, before passing them on to Mr Little, who quickly glanced down at each sheet of paper and, without missing a beat, introduced a new aspect of the Government’s perfidy. Socialism in action.

When finally his ordeal was over – no-one was mean enough to move an extension of time

Oh dear having to have Parker write your speech and Trevor vet it.  They probably stepped in after he said this:

Then when the heat gets really tough she starts suing her political opponents, because that is the best way she knows to shut them down. This is not a Minister for ACC worth speaking of. This is not ministerial conduct that we understand in a Western democracy. This is shocking stuff. If you asked anybody else in the world “Is there a country where a Minister of Justice, who is charge of the courts, is using those courts to sue her political opponents?”, you would think we would be talking about somewhere in Africa, or maybe a Pacific Island. 

I guess Andrew isn’t going to be Foreign Affairs Spokesperson after those comments. As I have commented, he seems more focused on stopping the lawsuit against himself (which he could have stopped with a simple retraction and apology), than on the actual ACC issues and how they impact on New Zealanders.


Silliness from Little

June 13th, 2012 at 1:35 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Cabinet minister Judith Collins should be the next scalp in the ”ACC crisis”, Labour’s Andrew Little says.

Chief executive Ralph Stewart quit this morning following a boardroom clean out which has claimed chair John Judge, deputy John McCliskie and another director Rob Campbell.

That is either silliness by Andrew Little, or him trying to get escape the consequences of the defamation suit over his earlier remarks.

The Opposition has called for the Chair and CEO to go. That is exactly what has happened. They should be thanking the Minister for actually taking action to fix ACC’s culture.

Collins has been the Minister since December 2011. The Board and CEO all pre-date her.

Andrew may not like the fact that the Minister is suing him. His call for her to resign has no basis in substance.

I think it shows that Little is more concerned about utu against the Minister for suing him, rather than genuinely wanting change at ACC.

UPDATE: Stuff reports:

However, Green party MP Kevin Hague said Collins must stay on the job.

The “sick entitlement culture” in the House was the “big picture issue.”

“The minister who presided over that, Nick Smith; the hatchet man that he appointed, John Judge; and now Ralph Stewart – [their departures] were necessary steps to begin the process of refreshing the organisation.

“Now, in terms of Collins’ culpability around that – she wasn’t the minister that required all those changes. She has actually dealt to Judge, although I would have preferred a more explicit sacking.

“She’s clearly said ACC’s privacy sackings are unacceptable and must change and that’s actually a pretty good start. She may be the minister to do all this.”

I think this shows the stark differences between Greens and Labour. Kevin Hague actually cares about the people who have had a bad experience with ACC. He want to improve things – not just to score political points. This is in stark contrast to Labour’s Little who sees ACC purely as a political issue to help Labour gain their rightful place governing the masses.

I’ve never had a problem congratulating Labour Ministers when they do something right. Little seems incapable of doing the same with Collins.