by Kevin Hague
Financial Review of ACC today, so I subbed in for Gareth on the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee. Usual thing – we and Labour make the running and when things get too hot the Government members take a turn with patsy questions.
ACC fronted with Chair, John Judge, by videoconference and CEO Jan White fronting most questions, assisted by Denise Cosgrove, who seems to mostly front the reduction in ACC coverage we have seen.
I started by drawing attention to ACC’s claim that they have had to make the “hard decision” to “stick more closely to the legislation” on who gets covered. Were they, I asked, meaning that previously, when more New Zealanders had cover, they got that illegally? No, not at all, said Dr, White. What ACC means is that there is a range of ways in which the legislation can be interpreted (“shades of grey”) and they have just shifted from a less restrictive interpretation to a more restrictive one.
So I asked what the process had been to guide this change of interpretation, thinking about the Woodhouse principles and their spirit of genuine compensation. Ah well, what had happened was that ACC now had more evidence to guide the decisions, in contrast to the old days, when apparently claims were just approved without scrutiny. Well I was surprised by that answer, all the more so because it seemed totally incompatible with the earlier claim that the change was one of interpretation. I started in on the line of which of these explanations was actually correct, when, of course, a Government member stepped in for a reprieve.
When I got my next chance I asked about the sensitive claims process. How had that gone so disastrously wrong? We were told that there had been no change to coverage there, but that ACC had underestimated the amount of time that was needed for some process steps, and this had caused all the problems. Another surprise for me. Because back at the time this disaster started to unfold ACC’s explanation was that the previous interpretation of the law had not been restrictive enough, necessitating a more restrictive interpretation of “mental injury”. So that was the second major inconsistency in the evidence we heard. Again, rescue by Government members before I could press further.
And then sadly we ran out of time (and kind of mysteriously, since we had an extra hour before the scheduled end time). Which meant that I couldn’t ask my last question: given that the sensitive claims changes were such an unmitigated disaster, and that was only finally acknowledged after an independent review, what on earth would give the public confidence that the reductions to cover in many other areas were not also catastrophic, except a full, independent and public review? I get to put that one in writing? Expect another post when we hear the answer.