Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: This accident waiting to happen

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

It's that time again, when ACC issues a press release hinting at the thousands - sometimes millions - of dollars the already burdened taxpayer forks out to cover the accident-prone, the foolish and, in too many cases, the blind drunk.

In past years I can recall such gems as the guy who was so stoned he dislocated his jaw yawning, which didn't in any way disqualify him from state-funded treatment. Ditto prisoners who fell while making a break for it, and those injured while playing sports - whether it be accidents sustained by genuine athletes, or the unfit office worker who snaps her Achilles tendon on the first night of indoor netball and needs a year's treatment.

As a parent, I shouldn't scoff. Injuries around the home amount to almost as much as our annual GDP, and surely kids' toys account for a vast amount of that.

I haven't had recourse to ACC just yet for any of my own household mishaps, but it's a minor miracle: in the course of seven years I have virtually self-amputated my leg slipping on spilled watermelon bath gel; slid on a blue plastic frypan and slammed into a concrete wall; had a ceramic cup smashed over my head by a crazed toddler; and almost needed surgery to remove deeply embedded Lego pieces from the soles of my feet.

There was also the time my husband nearly knocked his teeth out tripping over at 3am, while trying to put on what he thought was a pair of underpants (it was, in fact, a child's T-shirt). The point of that anecdote was that I almost needed hospitalising with an asthma attack from laughing so hard.

Now, in its latest release ACC tells us weddings are a prime occasion for injury: over-enthusiastic dancing and hugging; infected blisters from new shoes; and plain old drunken tomfoolery causing myriad compensation claims without, it seems, any shame.

Laugh uproariously, but there is a finite number of taxpayers paying for accident treatment and other healthcare, and the danger is that our collective demands will sink this precious resource.

It's not only individual demands, of course - private insurers like Southern Cross are becoming more aggressive about ensuring that ACC coughs up, as it faces bigger and more complex treatment demands.

Personally, I think the time is coming when all able adults will have to pay a form of health insurance: in British Columbia, Canada, for example, every working adult makes a weekly payment to the state and, in return, gets sustainable health services. Those who want more, pay for more - just as more than a million New Zealanders already do.

While there will be those who find the idea an affront to the very notion of a public health service, there is every reason to believe that the present system - a cash-strapped public service, and a private counterpart that delivers most benefit to the young and healthy - could be improved upon. And with the elderly, the young and the acutely ill most in need, maybe there's a case for better weighting of the public system in their favour.

In the meantime, ACC should continue in its efforts to alert us all to the chance of slipping over, electrocution and other wedding-related mishaps. In the interests of fairness, perhaps it should add 1000-piece Lego sets and toddlers to its list of household hazards.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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