Concerns over govt health initiative

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 15:41 24/06/2014

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The Government has been attacked by opposition over its flagship health initiative, after leaked reports compared it to a ponzi scheme.

During question time in Parliament today, Labour health spokeswoman Annette King asked the Government whether it would be ordering an Auditor-General investigation after grave concerns about the work of cost-cutting crown entity Health Benefits Ltd (HBL) were revealed in a series of leaked documents during the past week.

She said there had been substantial delays in HBL programs, with growing costs and diminishing saving for DHBs.

It was even claimed in the leaked douments that HBL could appropriate DHBs' public health dollars without seeking approval, she said.

"Does that sound like a ponzi scheme? And if it doesn't, what does?," she said.

Responding on behalf of Health Minister Tony Ryall, Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew using the term "ponzi" was politicking in election year and HBL had made substantial savings.

"The minister is well aware of the concerns of some CFOs (chief financial officers)," she said.

"People in the midst of significant change will be asking questions and be concerned about their job."

HBL was set up by the Government in 2010 to save DHBs $700m over five years.

Last week, a letter was leaked from a group of chief financial officers of DHBs expressing a lack of confidence in HBL and its plans to save millions by consolidating DHB back office financing and supplies.

This morning, Radio New Zealand reported a memo in which a senior DHB manager likened HBL to a ponzi scheme and called it the biggest threat to the public health system in a generation.

Association of Salaried Medical Specialist executive director Ian Powell said the revelations were not a surprise to doctors.

"It's very difficult for DHBs and senior staff to advise on risks of politically driven policies in the current climate, which discourages openness or disagreement.  It's a case of reaping what you sow - and it's up to the Government to take the concerns raised seriously."

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