ACC's debatable bonus scheme

GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 15:11 28/06/2012

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Bonus payments are a difficult concept to embrace.

They seem to be paid out to chief executives in both the public and private sectors - as a reward in good times and as gratitude for steering the ship through bad times.

The bonuses are paid even though they relate to doing the same job for which the chief executives are already being handsomely compensated.

Last week's bonus payment system revealed by Green Party MP Kevin Hague, however, showed ACC staff being paid bonuses for shifting long-term clients off the books. These payments seem particularly hard to justify.

To the public, it would seem obvious that once you create a system of paying staff to cull ACC claimants, then such payment could easily taint the entire process of clinical assessment.

After all, the outcome is pretty clear.

If people are taken off ACC and re-defined as job seekers, they are likely - given the state of the job market - to receive a lesser payment on welfare.

Judging by the papers that Hague obtained under the Official Information Act, the payment issue appears to be systemic.

Bonus payments are available not only to ACC case managers on the front lines but to team leaders, technical claims managers and branch managers, as well.

In response, outgoing ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart did his best to argue that such payments formed only a small part of the remuneration package, but that was hardly re-assuring, or convincing.

After all, surely an incentive payment has to be big enough to influence performance. That's why it exists.

In an ACC context, where clinical assessment is supposed to be the key factor, there would seem no place whatsoever for payments that pose a risk of skewing the decisions.

According to Stewart, ACC has two goals: to rehabilitate claimants, and to manage its finances - and those things are kept entirely separate.

Nothing is to be read into the existence of the incentive scheme for the past three years, and the decline in long-term claimant numbers over that same period.

Yet according to critics, the culture that prevails at ACC routinely treats long-term claimants as malingerers, via an adversarial process in which, in effect, claimants are treated as guilty until proven otherwise.

Where it exists, that negative mindset needs to change.

ACC payments are not welfare handouts. They are compensation to accident victims because of (a) an ongoing condition preventing a return to work and (b) because ACC claimants have agreed to forego the right of suing for damages in return for the state providing an adequate level of compensation.

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The state now not only seems willing to welsh on its side of the contract but appears keen to pay incentives to those who enable it to do so.

Those incentive payments "are a good thing", ACC Minister Judith Collins said, if they get people back to work.

"But where I do see a problem is if anyone's being forced off ACC when they're simply not able to work, and I think that's a different thing altogether."

Yet if staff are being paid to terminate client entitlements and that outcome eventuates and people go off the books, is the public supposed to believe those things are totally unrelated?

Few voters seem likely to buy ACC's claims of innocence.

- Kapiti Observer

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