As parliament voted through the first stage of sweeping ACC cuts, the Government ordered a review of controversial new rules for sex abuse claims – on the day they took effect.
ACC Minister Nick Smith said he had instructed the board to report on the changes to the sex abuse system, which kicked in yesterday, at the end of six months.
The new rules require victims to be diagnosed with a mental illness – a higher test than the previous “mental injury” requirement – to qualify for ACC-funded treatment. Claimants will also have to undergo independent assessment after 16 weeks.
About 2000 clinicians working in the field signed a 4000-strong petition protesting against the changes, which was delivered to Parliament yesterday.
Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald said some clinicians had said they would not work under the changes as they were “unethical”.
He said the review announced by Dr Smith was a start but the guidelines should be put on hold until after a thorough assessment. “It does mean that these new guidelines … will be in effect for six months, and that has the potential to cause very poor unethical treatment.”
Dr Smith said the changes were developed over four years by Massey University and their introduction was a “clinical” decision by ACC. “It’s an area that I’m very hesitant to interfere in, in that it is a clinical decision, but I’m announcing today that I have requested ACC to do an independent clinical review of their management of the sensitive claims, the new process.”
He was aware of claims some psychotherapists and counsellors might not treat patients under the new rules, but said there were professional disagreements between them and psychologists and psychiatrists about the merits of the new system.
The review was announced as MPs prepared to debate changes to ACC, including stripping out several entitlements to cut costs.
Changes also include ending cover for suicide and self-harm, stopping compensation for serious criminals and reducing payments to injured seasonal workers.
The Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill also introduces the potential for safer employers and drivers to pay lower levies, although it will require regulation changes before they can be brought in.
A key change is pushing back the date for full-funding of claims from 2014 to 2019, helping to mitigate what would have been massive levy rises next year.
Labour ACC spokesman David Parker said the cuts were not necessary, as ACC took in $1 billion more in levies than it paid out last year.
Labour has accused National of scaremongering on ACC’s financial position to pave the way to opening the scheme to privatisation.
National promised to investigate the introduction of competition in the employers account, but has agreed to look at it across ACC to win ACT support for the bill.
The Maori Party and UnitedFuture are also backing the bill.