ACC confirms testing for claimants

ACC's methods are again under the spotlight after it confirmed using "neuropsychological and psychological assessments" to help decide if claimants were being straightforward.

That came to light yesterday after claims it uses "lie detector tests" to see if claimants are telling the truth.

Claimant Margaret Read told Radio New Zealand that ACC would not believe her statements of brain and spinal injuries, nor evidence from specialists, and applied a lie detector test.

An ACC spokeswoman declined to comment on an individual case, but said the no-fault insurer did not use lie detector tests.

Asked if any of its processes could be interpreted as a lie detector test, she said that was subjective. "What seems to be being referred to is the use of measures in neuropsychological and psychological assessments to provide some indication as to whether the client is presenting in a straightforward manner; that is, not under- or over-reporting their symptoms," she said.

"Neuropsychological assessments administer tests which look at the client's cognitive functioning (thinking functions such as language, attention, speed of thinking, memory, flexibility in thinking and problem solving skills)."

They were used to help indicate whether "clients are either minimising or exaggerating their emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depressive symptoms". This was also to determine whether the assessment results truly reflected a client's current emotional functioning.

When a client displayed evidence of a lack of effort, under-reporting or exaggeration of symptoms, ACC would try to determine why "and then provide the appropriate help the client needs to progress in their rehabilitation".

Labour ACC spokesman Andrew Little said he was "gob-smacked" by the practice, which was evidence of the distrust ACC had for claimants. "It sounds like lie-detecting to me."

Claimants' medical state was what mattered, not their personality. "They seem to be using criteria other than `is this person injured as a result of an accident?'."

Ms Read said she was asked to take a lie detector test to prove she did have spinal and brain injuries, which she passed. ACC still did not believe her and she took her battle to the courts.

"You feel absolutely shattered into tiny pieces, you keep saying `but I'm the person who's injured – why do I feel I'm being punished, why am I being bullied'."

ACC later backed down, and awarded Ms Read compensation.

Taking the lie detector test had made her feel like a criminal, she said.

Lawyer John Miller, who specialises in ACC cases, said he was not aware of anyone undergoing lie detector tests at ACC.

But part of the problem was that it was like an insurance company, asking so many questions people felt they were suspected of making things up, he said.

The attitude from ACC was that it was trying to minimise people's entitlements, rather than help them. "It's terrible if you're injured being at the mercy of some claims officer's views of you," he said.

ACC dealt quickly and efficiently with most people, but his clients were those at the hard end of the spectrum. "The more difficult claimants find they are treated badly by ACC and are perceived as exaggerating."

People viewed health problems they could not see with suspicion, and ACC claims officers were no different, he said.

An independent report into ACC privacy and security practices, sparked by the leak of confidential information to whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar, has been put back by two months.

The inquiry, commissioned by the Privacy Commissioner and the ACC board, now has a deadline of August 23, instead of the end of this month, ACC interim chairwoman Paula Rebstock said yesterday.

The delay was caused by the volume of information that needed to be gathered and assessed.

The Dominion Post