The ACC budget blow out is a very big number – a $1.3 billion short fall in the earners’ account over three years on top of a similar hole in the non-earners’ account. But most of those big sums are a result of lots of little ones and I’ve contributed to two of them in the past month.
The first was because of a back injury.
It happened when I bent down while doing some housework. It’s something which has happened off and on for years and started after carrying my son in a front pack.
The school bus stopped about 700 metres from our house and when our daughter started school I thought it would be better for both of us if we walked to and fro rather than driving. We had to take her younger brother too but that was in the days before the heavy-duty super buggies available now and the buggy we had wasn’t built for the unsealed road.
Dan had a brain disorder which left him with multi-handicaps and he couldn’t hold his head up and therefore couldn’t be put in a back pack. However, I had a front pack which supported his head so strapped him in and off we went.
That worked for the trip to the bus before school so I put Dan in the front pack and walked back to meet the bus in the afternoon and all was well until I woke next morning. I could hardly move because of the pain in my lower back which told me that the frontpack designed for little babies obviously wasn’t meant to be used for bigger and heavier ones.
Ever since then I’ve had a recurring back problem which usually fixes itself if I dont’ stand still for long and sit straight when I’m working at a desk. But this time the pain persisted so I sought help from a physio who worked some magic on the affected area on four successive visits, gave me exercises to do in between and sent the bill to ACC.
The second happened after I tripped over at a wedding last Friday.
I treated the sore wrist which resulted with ice and a compression bandage when I got home but it was still very painful and swollen when I went to the after-wedding lunch next day. Several people there, including some nurses, regaled me with horror stories of minor injuries which became major because they weren’t treated early and said I should get it x-rayed in case I’d broken something.
So I went to the ED at the local hospital where I was given an ACC form to fill in and seen by a nurse who asked what I could and couldn’t do. I could make a fist, wriggle and splay the fingers, couldn’t rotate my wrist far or lift with that hand.
She told me I was doing the right thing with the compression bandage and keeping the hand elevated; put it in a sling and recommended paracetomol for the pain. She then said that the radiologist didn’t get called in at weekends unless there was an urgent case so I should come back on Monday if there was no improvement.
By Monday the swelling was down a little and I decided I didn’t need an x-ray but ACC would have been billed for my Saturday visit and Macdoctor is reliably informed that it costs about $300 for an ACC form to be processed, accepted and assigned to a manager; and ACC would have been charged an extra $38 or so for the consultation with the triage nurse.
If we didn’t have ACC the taxperyer would have paid for my trip to ED but I suspect my visit would amount to a lot less in the hospital budget than $338.
Macdoctor reckons ACC pays $39 for a physio visit, so I’d have been charged $156 for the treatment of my back had I had to pay myself but it would have cost ACC $456.
There’s obviously something wrong with a system where the admin costs so much more than the treatment and maybe the government’s plan to open it up to competition might help because a private business wouldn’t surivie with initial overhead costs per claim of $300.
Private companies might be able to be more flexible than the state run organisation with better incentives like lower premiums for employers with good safety records; or offer no claims bonuses so that people don’t bother claiming for minor complaints like mine.
I say might deliberately because until the options are investigated we can’t be sure if opening ACC to competition will work.
But it’s worth looking into and if introducing competition doesn’t offer substantial savings the government will have to come up with Plan B because if something doesn’t change the billion dollar budget blowouts might just be the beginning.