ACC Minister Judith Collins yesterday pledged to examine the independence of a small group of doctors claimed to be receiving large payments in return for medical assessments that help the corporation take costly long term claimants off its books.
In series of articles in recent years the Herald has reported concerns about a small group of doctors being used by the corporation to reject claims for elective surgery on grounds of pre-injury "degenerative" conditions.
However reports this week claimed the corporation was similarly using a select group of medical assessors who could be relied on to produce medical assessments of long term claimants that allowed the corporation to end their entitlements.
Yesterday, Green ACC spokesman Kevin Hague said he'd obtained data under the Official Information Act showing a small group of doctors were being paid up $500,000 which raised "huge doubts" about their independence.
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Mr Hague named the four doctors under the protection of Parliamentary privilege as Martin Robb, Vic du Plessis, Bill Turner and David Beaumont. All four were identified as being paid somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 last year. Dr Robb, Dr du Plessis, and Dr Beaumont saw 300 to 500 ACC claimants that year while Dr Turner saw 500 to 700.
"The enormous volume of work and the huge fees paid to these specialists suggest they have been well and truly wrapped up in ACC's processes for delivering its goal to 'target the low hanging fruit' - the people with long term injuries", Mr Hague said.
He questioned Ms Collins in Parliament yesterday as to whether "an ordinary person would consider it possible that medical advisers like Dr du Plessis, Dr Turner, Dr Beaumont and Dr Robb could remain independent of ACC" when the corporation paid them so much.
"I think that is an issue that needs to be considered and I've spoken to ACC about it", Ms Collins told him.
"The member will be aware that there is a new board now put in place. I will be meeting with the board and discussing obviously not the individual cases and matters but how we can end up with a system which obviously achieves good robust and independent medical reports and assessments that can be seen as independent by both the clients of ACC and ACC."
However Ms Collins also indicated the issue as not a new one.
"In the year 2000 the same lawyers for ACC clients were claiming exactly the same issues around what they said were non-independent medical assessments. I don't think much has changed but I'm happy to work with the member to get things to change."