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More Swedes denied sick benefits

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16:43 CEST+02:00
The number of Swedes who have been denied sick benefits has risen sharply over the past year, according to new statistics.

Over 8,200 people this year have either been refused the benefits or seen their compensation reduced. The spike is due to new health rules and better procedures for judging who is capable of working.

About 30 percent more saw their sick pay compensation reduced in the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to recent figures from the Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) as reported by news agency TT.

In the last two years, the number who have seen their sick pay compensation reduced has more than doubled.

"The increase in the numbers with reduced compensation has to do with how we apply the rehabilitation chain," said Bertil Thorslund, an analyst at the agency. "Medical decisions probably also support such an impact. They result in illnesses not lasting as long."

Radical changes have been made to Sweden's system of sick benefits. Sweden has long had the highest levels of sick leave in the European Union, according to official figures, despite having one of the world's healthiest populations by other measures.

Previously, it could be many years before a sick person's work capacity was tested. They are now subject to time limits provided by the government in 2008, which means that working capacity is tested against the entire labor market after six months.

The government also introduced also introduced new guidelines for the sick in 2007, the so-called medical decision support.

"The agency has always had the mandate to test someone's ability to work across the entire job market, but there have been no deadlines before," said Thorslund.

During the first four months of this year, more than 8,200 people were denied sick benefits, of which about 3,300 saw their sick pay compensation reduced and about 4,900 were rejected and received no compensation at all.

The number who were refused sick pay rose 38 percent during the first four months compared with the same period last year. The percentage of refusals increased from 1.6 percent in 2007 to 2.8 percent in 2009.

The increase in denials may be related to the agency becoming better at investigating work capacity or that the application and interpretation of the law is more uniform at the various offices now than before.

However, no one knows for sure the reason behind the jump.

Thorslund described the developments as "a mystery that we do not understand.

"The increase is probably not due to any rule change. We have discussed it and not found any good explanation," said Thorslund.

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