Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

ACC shows kinder face, cuts back-to-work goals

ACC Minister Judith Collins. Photo / APN
ACC Minister Judith Collins. Photo / APN

ACC is to soften its drive to get long-term claimants back into work in the face of concerns it is pushing clients off its books before they are properly rehabilitated.

The corporation yesterday published its Service and Purchase Agreement for the 2012-15 period in which it sets out its targets and priorities. Improving "trust and confidence" was the corporation's number one priority in the agreement, replacing "cost containment" which was top of the list last year. Its second priority in this year's agreement is "improved management and security of private information".

Since March, the corporation has grappled with a massive privacy breach and ensuing scandal, a failed attempt to prosecute claimant and former National Party insider Bronwyn Pullar for blackmail, and an increasing spotlight on its controversial strategy to bolster its financial sustainability by moving costly long-term claimants off its books. That came top of a series of articles in the Herald highlighting ACC's tougher approach to elective surgery claims.

Figures obtained by the Herald last week showed the corporation cut the number of long-term claimants receiving weekly compensation by 3644 or 25 per cent to 10,773 in the three years since June 2009. That was well ahead of targets. Last week ACC said its target for the 2012-13 year was a reduction of 253. In the agreement published yesterday that target was reduced to 200.

Acting ACC chairwoman Paula Rebstock said that as the number of long-term claimants declined, so did the targets for reducing that tally further.

She acknowledged "there was some discussion" about having the target slightly higher for the coming year, "but the board took the view that given the new priorities and the focus on addressing some of these other issues, that target would have to be slightly lower and we lowered it".

Those priorities and issues were spelled out clearly in ACC Minister Judith Collins' "letter of expectations" to former chairman John Judge in April which was also released yesterday.

While she said the corporation had done well managing its finances, the board had a broader set of responsibilities including "ensuring entitlements are delivered fairly and transparently to all New Zealanders".

"While the gains made by ACC over the past year are very pleasing, I am aware that the initiatives taken by the board to raise performance of ACC have had many and varied impacts on claimants, health providers, and other stakeholders" she went on to say. "ACC and the way it delivers services are now seen by many in a new light ... Recent events have not helped the public image of the corporation."

Greens ACC spokesman Kevin Hague said the new agreement was encouraging.

"I'd been looking at this document as a litmus test for whether Ms Collins' language about a culture change should be assumed to be empty rhetoric or whether it's likely to have substance, and very clearly in her letter of expectations and in the agreement ... she's actually followed through so far."

Claimants advocacy group the ACC Futures Coalition said Ms Collins had set out some good first steps.

"They should go a long way towards strengthening ACC as a public institution for the coming year" said spokeswoman Hazel Armstrong. "We welcome the emphasis on rebuilding public trust and confidence in ACC, but trust takes a long time to build and, as the corporation has just found out, can evaporate rather quickly."

However, the agreement said nothing about the need for ACC to use truly independent medical assessors and it still emphasised getting people off the scheme using "vocational independence".

"Both these factors have contributed to claimant disillusionment with the scheme and need to be addressed."

ACC'S TARGETS

For culling long term claimants:
* 2009-10: 100
* 2010-11: 1150
* 2011-12: 406
* 2012-13: 200
* 2013-14: 89
* 2014-15: 50

- NZ Herald

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