Not all editorials and columns agree with the government view on ACC’s problems and solutions.
But there is concensus that there is a big problem in need of an enduring solution.
That belt-tightening exercise we’re enduring with ACC – there comes a point where what you’ve got is no longer a tightened belt. It’s a tourniquet. Confuse the two and something’s going to blacken and fall off, writes The Southland Times in an editorial.
Many eyes are bulging at the severity of the huge rises to ACC levies, and the toughening up of the qualifying criteria. These measures, including an extra $320 a year coming out of the average wage (which actually seven out of 10 workers are on or below), do need scrutiny for over-reaching.
Of greater concern is the growth of future liabilities, from $9.4 billion to $23.8 billion in four years, and a good deal of the responsibility for widened and costly coverage can be laid at the door of the Clark government.
An example is the physiotherapy benefit . . . According to the Government, the subsidy introduced by Labour in 2004 and budgeted to cost $9 million a year had by this year risen to $139 million and was projected to rise to $225 million by 2011-12, with no equivalent rise in rehabilitation rates.
It has quoted other examples of how the scheme has developed far beyond its original concept to cover diseases like leptospirosis and brucellosis and medical conditions like asthma, when, it argues, these should instead be paid for out of Vote Health.
To these might be added trauma of various kinds suffered by victims and perpetrators resulting not from accidents but from criminal acts, mental injury arising from workplace trauma, and sports injuries.
When it began with the 1972 Accident Compensation Act, only those who were employed were entitled to claim for workplace accidents. That soon changed to cover all accidents, including motor vehicle accidents, regardless how injury occurred.
The unworkable or unprofitable parts will have to be bundled back into a Government scheme. And somewhere in the middle the romantic notion of a Government-funded no-fault system will have to be modified in a politically-acceptable way.
It is a Herculean task and one that will provide a stern test for the National Government. Whatever happens in the long term, what is crystal clear today is that taxpayers will have to dig deep to get ACC out of the mire. Having a unique highly regarded system is great in theory. It is also extremely expensive.
What would really undermine ACC and its no-fault comprehensive coverage principle would be a lack of firm action taken now to control its costs, with major levy rises not just a short-term source of financial pain for New Zealanders but something that continues well into future years.
Though there has been no shortage of spin around ACC’s balance sheet and performance during National’s 11 months in office, it is clear some significant changes were needed in order to bring the scheme back under control.
Some of the proposals will sail in – no more entitlements for injured methamphetamine “cooks” for example – but increased levies have already provoked wide-ranging protest.
There is no such thing as a free ACC system.
That must be central to the honest conversation the Government is asking New Zealanders to have about the scheme. Stripped to its essentials, the scheme is an insurance one, and that means any entitlement in the scheme costs money, and must be paid for by levies.
The debate must also recognise that the ACC was established to compensate people who are injured. It was not meant to be an extension of the social welfare system, cushioning people against all misfortune. The distinctions it makes are arbitrary, and can be seen as unfair . . .
. . . The job facing Dr Smith and his colleagues is to convince the public that what is being done is fair, and within the spirit of the deal that saw New Zealanders trade away their right to sue for a no-fault right to compensation.
That deal remains a good one. It should be made to work and made affordable, not torn up.
The massive increases aimed at the two-wheelers just highlights what a sorry mess ACC has become. The corporation was introduced in 1974 on April Fool’s Day which probably says much about what it has become – a $24 billion liability to the taxpayer.National promised to put the boot into bureaucrats and under-performing government departments when it came to power last year.
ACC was clearly in its sights and so it should have been.
Quite apart from the horrific imbalance between money taken in and that dished out, New Zealanders have become sick of the tales that have leaked from the corporation throughout its 35-year existence.
Remember the outrage of the prisoner being paid ACC for injuries suffered during the act of crime?
While those criminal instances might be a fraction of the ACC’s overall costs it nevertheless highlights the stupidity of parts of its system.
Past abusers of ACC are partly responsible for the current tightening in all areas.
A benefit now has a cosier name – an entitlement – which is “a right granted by law or contract”. Big. Difference. . .
There has been a lot of talk of entitlements over the ACC-in-a-pickle problem. . . And the punters who have “entitlements” are no longer called claimants; they are clients, lest it might sound as though they are putting their paw out. The ACC public relations dude told me the Labour Government had asked for the jargon change – Labour understood the power of Neuro-linguistic Programming. The theory was that people had actually paid their premiums and so shouldn’t feel they were getting summat for nothing. Dinky idea, but as we now know, the premiums do not cover the cost of the ACC scheme – so claimants are getting something for nothing. Actually. . .
. . . I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why it is that large corporates, such as Fonterra and Air New Zealand, can opt out of ACC and self-insure – but I can’t. Oh, I get the practical reason – that I don’t have a lazy mill to cover a claim – but where is the policy rationale? The opt-out clause (cosy name: the “partnership programme”) takes 15 per cent of the country’s workers out of ACC. So if these corporates can manage their health and safety liabilities more efficiently than ACC, what does that say about ACC?
. . . in the 35 years since ACC was established, so many bits have been carved off and clipped on that it bears little resemblance to the original design.
Anomalies abound: people who work in dangerous jobs pay more in earner levies than people who work in offices, but rugby league forwards incur no more expense by way of premium payment than those whose leisure preference is macrame. . .
More profoundly, many of its conceptual assumptions have been corrupted by this piecemeal regulatory intervention. ACC has not been reviewed since the 1980s and, once it has dealt with the immediate crisis, the Government would do well to consider another reassessment of the entire system.
In 1974, we entered a social contract by which we surrendered the right to sue. As a society, we were keen to avoid the litigious and ludicrously expensive American model.
But it is not an absolute truth than our system is better. Anyone who spends time in the US will quickly notice the lengths to which people go to avoid posing a risk to others.
That carefulness flows from fear of being sued, of course, but it’s worth wondering whether we here have grown too accustomed to being reckless of others’ – and our own – welfare, in the knowledge that someone else will pay.
If nothing else, the crisis we face now reminds us that we are all that someone else.
The Government can remain insurer of last resort for dangerous employers with bad track records, but why should safe, careful employers who look after their workers continue to pay high levies and cross-subsidise the former?