Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A phone call from the ACC

A senior man from the ACC phoned me a few days ago. He had read my gripes about accident compensation (see below) and wanted a chat.

Refreshingly, he didn’t phone to harangue me or point out where I was wrong. Quite the contrary. He said I had raised some valid points and he understood my frustration.

He told me that while surveys showed big employers were generally satisfied with their dealings with the ACC, the organisation acknowledged that it needed to engage more with small businesses and self-employed people like me. To that end, he said, the ACC was now making a special attempt to improve its relationship with these sectors through intermediaries such as banks and accountants. (I’m paraphrasing him here, but I think I’m accurately conveying the gist of what he said.)

I told him it was hardly surprising that big businesses had fewer complaints about the ACC. After all, they generally employ HR departments and other specialist staff to deal with issues like accident compensation. But it’s a very different story for the panel beater, farmer or florist who employs two or three people, or for the self-employed mug like me.

For the estimated 600,000 small business operators who make up most of the private sector, ACC is just another headache on top of all the other administrative distractions that eat into their time and vacuum money out of their bank accounts. Any effort to make it more user-friendly has to be welcomed, but why has it taken so long?

The man from the ACC (not a PR flunky, incidentally) also expressed sympathy for the predicament of clients like me who had to pay two substantial invoices in the space of one month – and just before Christmas – because of delays in creating new work classifications. He explained this by saying there were a lot of changes to be worked through.

I remain unconvinced. What's more, I have a sneaking suspicion that the ACC’s peculiar classifications, which are apparently aligned with an Australian model, are an example of the bureaucratic mind creating a clumsy system then demanding that users conform with it, rather than first establishing the users’ needs then devising a system that suits them.

As for the rising cost of accident compensation levies, the ACC man recited the standard line about having to deal with an increasing number of injuries as well as higher treatment costs. Whether this justifies my levy nearly doubling as a proportion of my liable earnings between 2005 and 2009, I couldn’t say.

Of course he wasn’t in a position to comment on my most fundamental objection to ACC, which is that it’s a monopoly. Therefore I have no choice about being a client and the ACC has no competitors putting pressure on it to function more efficiently or to be more responsive to its clients’ needs.

Still, I appreciated the call.

1 comment:

macdoctor said...

the ACC man recited the standard line about having to deal with an increasing number of injuries as well as higher treatment costs.

As you rightly suspected, Karl, this excuse is garbage. The cost of treating injuries has barely increased with inflation and has certainly not doubled in the last two years.

There are no more injuries per capita than there were 10 years ago. And there are considerably fewer MAJOR injuries per capita - the ones that cost the real money.

What has happened is that ACC has lost much of the "free ride" they received from Emergency Departments. Minor injuries that were part of the (grossly inadequate) bulk payment to DHBs for Emergency services are now frequently seen in A&M clinics where ACC is charged the full price.

I should point out that any price rise from ACC is above the inflation rate. Bracket creep and petrol levies ensure that ACC earnings steadily increase as inflation drives up wages and, to a certain extent, the price of petrol. Thus a rate rise from ACC is a declaration of uncontained costs.