ACC patients to pay fee in physio cost-cutting

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Visiting the physio will cost patients at least $10-20 each time, now that the ACC has decided to cut costs.

From November 16, accident victims will be billed for each visit to a physiotherapist, following ACC's client co-charging scheme announced yesterday. The move comes after ACC Minister Nick Smith announced, in March, that several entitlements would be cut in response to a blow-out in treatment costs.

A statement from the organisation yesterday said it needed to contain the rising costs of delivering clinical services - including physiotherapy.

But Jonathan Warren, president of the New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists, says the move is "short sighted" and will end up costing the Government more money.

"These changes mean that some people who need treatment will not be able to afford it. If a patient doesn't get early treatment for an injury, recovery can take much longer and their health may suffer in the long run," Mr Warren said.

"In some cases a simple problem, untreated, can lead to permanent disability ... Untreated injuries will end up costing the Government much more in health and social dollars."

No set charge has been announced and it will be up to individual physiotherapy clinics to decide how much they will charge patients - although each clinic will have to charge at least enough to make up for the reduced subsidy. The charge is therefore expected to be at least $10 to $20 per treatment. ACC said the new client co-charge initiative was to reduce the growing expenditure on physiotherapy, which over the years had become increasingly large.

In March, Dr Smith said that the free physiotherapy service - which was introduced in 2004 - had got out of control.

Up to $8.9 million extra had been budgeted for free physiotherapy visits in 2004, but costs had gone from $58 million per year to $139 million this financial year.

Dr Smith said since the service became free, the number of clients in higher socio-economic areas using the service had "occurred disproportionately".

In 2008-09, physiotherapy cost levy payers $144 million. If this were to continue, that cost would reach up to $232 million by 2013 - a figure that is unaffordable for levy payers, the ACC says.

A provision for those with lower incomes was argued by the society, Mr Warren said, but was unsuccessful.

He said consequences of the lower subsidy provided by ACC would most likely hurt not only patients, but the physiotherapy clinics themselves.

"I expect that as fewer people seek treatment, some clinics will have to cut staff and others may even be forced to close," he said. "Reducing the physiotherapy workforce will reduce the country's ability to meet health targets."

- NZ Herald

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