ACC Minister Judith Collins seems laudably willing to allay suspicions about the independence of some doctors hired to assess the health of corporation clients and claimants. Those suspicions were reinforced by Green Party MP Kevin Hague's disclosures that the ACC pays four doctors - whom he named - up to $2 million a year “for services rendered”.
The volume of work and fees suggested to Mr Hague that ACC could rely on the doctors to deliver assessments favourable to meeting its target of reducing long-term clients.
Recollections have been stirred of Judge Peter Trapski, almost two decades ago, advising ACC what he uncovered during an inquiry he conducted at its behest. He found a psychiatrist had been used as the corporation's "hitman" by staff fed up with clients "ripping off the system". He recommended medical opinions be independent and be seen to be independent.
Highlighting the fees paid to the four assessors combined with the high rate at which ACC decisions on long-term claimants are overturned at review, Mr Hague says it seems little has changed.
Ms Collins told Parliament that ACC had advised her it has 338 doctors who can carry out medical assessments. But when asked if the four doctors in question could be “independent” of the ACC when it pays them between $300,000 and $500,000 apiece a year, the minister acknowledged it was “an issue that needs to be considered”.
She agreed that contracting for specialist medical assessments with district health boards or professional colleges might help ensure doctors were independent and be seen to be so. With a new board appointed, she wanted to see if this was a realistic proposal.
Her aim is to end up with a system that achieves good, robust, and independent medical assessments and can be seen as independent by the parties. Her readiness to recognise the validity of the concerns raised is commendable. It remains for effective remedies to be applied.