Gutting ACC – it’s just not fair: Hearing loss

The ACC scheme is a social contract.  Before ACC came into being, New Zealanders were able to sue each other for personal injury.  We gave up that right, in return for the no-fault, comprehensive cover scheme that is ACC.

National wants to erode the comprehensive cover aspect of the scheme in an ominous way.  They are proposing to remove the right to be covered by ACC for people who suffer a hearing loss of less than 6%.

Hearing loss has only ever been covered by ACC if it has been caused by an accident, by the work environment of an employee, or by medical treatment.  You don’t get cover if it is caused by a natural process or by a disease or infection.

But even if your hearing loss is caused by an accident or by your work environment, Nick Smith wants to deny you ACC cover if you are only a little bit deaf.

It’s like denying you cover if you have only a small fracture, or if you have only minor ligament damage.  Maybe those types of injuries are the next on his list of things to deny cover for.

But if you suffer only mild deafness, do you get back the right to sue the person who caused it?  Of course not!  You’ll have to meet the cost of hearing aids and any other costs arising from it yourself.

This proposal cuts at the heart of the no-fault, comprehensive cover nature of the ACC scheme.

It’s just not fair!

10 Comments Posted

  1. TOad- you last sentence – then it will be scrap between reports of medical professionals at an ACC review hearing – and another scrap between ACC and the employer on the persons expereince rating if the claimant wins.

  2. It strikes me that those who trivialise relatively mild hearing loss (5 or 6%) probably don’t suffer such hearing loss. If they went from 100% hearing to 95% in a short period they would notice it, and would not be happy. Its not the end of the world, but not being able to hear what people are saying in crowded rooms (for example) is not a trivial thing either, and can impact significantly on ones effectiveness at work (depending on what sort of work is involved).

    ACC is an insurance scheme to provide compensation for accidents and injuries which happen at work. People do not (or should not) expect it to cover hearing loss because they wear their portable music players too long and set at too high a volume. However, it is reasonable to expect that work related injuries and accidents will be covered. What the government is doing by removing compensation for minor accidents or injuries is a direct attack on working conditions.

  3. Frog and davec: As samiuela hints, I think you are both a bit right and both a bit wrong on this.

    Sure, a 6% hearing loss may not cause huge inconvenience or huge expense to ACC. But when you get a degenerative hearing loss superimposed on industrial or accidental deafness, the cumulative effect can be far greater than 6%.

    So what ACC are doing is amending their cover rules to absolve them of any responsibility for entitlements such a hearing aids when industrial or accidental deafness is a contributor to, but not the sole cause, of a person with a hearing loss sufficient to need hearing aids.

    And what’s the bet we’ll see a whole lot of claims where the assessed apportionment of, say, a 20% hearing loss is, conveniently for ACC, 5% to industrial deafness and 15% to degenerative hearing loss.

  4. Davec,

    I have a small amount of hearing loss, probably caused by aging, but its more than most people my age have. It was first detected when I was about 25. The loss is not caused by an accident, loud music or disease; I’m simply a bit unlucky (I suspect other family members also have it). I don’t need hearing aids. However, it is a real nuisance, I can’t easily hear people talking in crowded rooms, I can’t hear telephone conversations in noisy environments, determining direction of sounds can be difficult and so on.

    If I was to go from perfect hearing to even mild hearing loss as a result of a work accident I would be mightily pissed off, and would expect some sort of compensation, even if it was just a guarantee that later in life (when the accidental hearing loss was compounded by natural hearing loss) I would have the cost of hearing aids subsidised.

  5. davec, I don’t pretend to have any expertise in hearing loss. If you are correct, then the savings to ACC in denying cover to people with less than 6% hearing loss are not going to be all that great anyway.

    So why do it? It is the principle of someone who has an injury, albeit a mild one, being denied cover that I object to. It is meant to be a comprehensive, no-fault scheme.

  6. Frog – you don’t know much about hearing loss. Nobody who has 6% hearing loss would sue. Nobody who had 6% hearing loss would need hearing aids.

  7. GoSolar, hearing loss caused by loud music has never been covered – unless you work, say, as a musician where you are exposed to loud music as part of your job.

    It is a gradual process injury, and gradual process injuries are covered only if they are work-related and the causative factor does not also occur to any significant extent in the injured person’s non-work environment.

  8. Considering 80% of the current generation of ear blasted headphone wearing younger people will be suffering this amount of hearing loss or more. I’m not surprised at his decision. Everyone would be claiming.

  9. Beg Pardon Froggle?
    I’ll turn the Firm 10% Pro Bono at once.
    Go after those entities that cause Damage hey?
    What, are Laws for after all?

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