Editorial: Run along. Or hobble, anyway

Last updated 11:00 23/06/2012

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ACC pays its staff an incentive for, let's say, shepherding claimants off its books.

This, we are assured, doesn't mean that clients are being shown the door before they are clinically good and ready.

In fact, to judge from the reactions of Minister Judith Collins and outgoing chief executive Ralph Stewart, for anyone to suggest that ACC staff would be so unprofessional, so venal, as to escort anyone out of compensation prematurely, just so they could line their own pockets, is insulting – or naive, if it means people have been misled by the uninformed or mischievous comments of political opponents and the hundreds upon hundreds of people who have been complaining openly about their own personal treatment. Either those people have clearly misunderstood what was happening in their own lives, or they were bone-idle no-goodniks, the lot of them.

The corporation would have us know that the first order of business is to get people ready for work. Then, and only then, to get them out of the corporation's umbrella and either working, or looking for it on the same footing as any other jobseeker. And that those incentive payments have been only part of the system of measuring performance.

A strategically significant part, it certainly appears. The bonus system has applied for three years, during which time the books have thinned out remarkably.

Curious, isn't it, that we cannot find any similar payment for staff who have prevented over-keen clients from leaving too early. So we have this contrast. Staff involved in an off-you-go case receive a specific financial reward whereas those who manage a stay-right-here client are differently rewarded; more along the lines of a warm glow of personal satisfaction. Which is also important in a job, right?

ACC staff are only human. They are surely liable to factor those bonus payments into their own financial lifestyles, and make personal expenditure decisions on that basis. In which case, if there is a naturally occurring drop in the number of people ready to take up their beds and walk, might the staffer not be tempted to cast around to ensure that their take-home pay doesn't similarly dip?

ACC is becoming too much like the archetypal insurance company. We must never forget that it was set up with broader social intentions; as a no-fault system to spare the nation the likes of the litigious nightmare under which countries such as the United States suffer – lawsuit after lawsuit taken out in circumstances ranging from the vexatious to the desperately pursued.

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Ours is a better system by far. An honourable system. It will attract malingerers, but by no means should the long-term claimants be regarded by default, and systematically treated, as falling substantively into that category.

One of the big problems in post-quake Canterbury is the time taken for insurance payouts to come through. So many people are still wrestling with their insurers. Oftentimes, the victims are themselves being incentivised by the offer of a lump-sum payment immediately available, in preference to what they are told in sombre tones could still be long delays before a full assessment can be made. Suit yourself whether you regard that as a purely practical, or ugly tactical, approach.

It appears that within ACC, or at least some parts of it, people are working not to protect the interests of New Zealanders but to drive down compensation payments as low as they can. No doubt if they were a publicly listed insurance company their shareholders would love them for it.

We don't.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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