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Reinfeldt rocked by 'chlamydia letter'

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Reinfeldt rocked by 'chlamydia letter'
13:10 CEST+02:00
Sweden's government came under heavy fire this week for its sick leave reforms after a 55-year-old woman suffering from a rare disfigurement syndrome had her sickness benefits withdrawn.

The story of Annica Holmquist's battles with the Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) quickly caught the nation's attention after her daughter wrote an emotive blog post about an illness that causes body parts to grow uncontrollably. She also wrote about the dire practical consequences of her mother losing access to welfare support, with social services calling on the 55-year-old to sell her apartment.

”I'm furious and would like to say to people that this could be your mother,” Emelie Holmquist told news agency TT.

Emelie Holmquist's post on her Klamydiabrevet (Chlamydia Letter) blog spread rapidly across social networking sites like Facebook before it was first picked up by TV4, then the large circulation Aftonbladet, and later referenced by a Washington Post blogger.

Annica Holmquist suffers from acromegaly, a syndrome brought on by an excess of growth hormones. The former dental hygienist said she was forced to stop working after parts of body like her facial features, fingers and feet began growing again, often leaving her in intense pain.

Despite having several medical statements confirming that she is unable to work, the insurance agency ruled to remove her from its system and withdraw her disability benefits.

Asked whether the massive interest in the case could affect the outcome of the election, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt replied:

”I'd rather not speculate. Obviously everybody is trying to promote their own aspects at the end of the election campaign. But from what I've heard, the Social Insurance Agency is planning to look into this particular case one more time,” he told news agency TT.

The prime minster became irritated when asked to comment further on the implications of the case.

”I don't know. As you well know, we are not permitted to comment on individual cases,” said Reinfeldt, referring to Sweden's constitutional ban on ministerial interference in such cases.

Reinfeldt's government came into power four years ago pledging to address the problem of a spiralling sick leave rate among Sweden's generally healthy population. The reforms to sick benefits have resulted in a large number of people moving into work or training programmes. But the move has met with fierce criticism from the opposition who charge the centre-right Alliance with throwing sick people out of the insurance system and forcing them to seek work.

The reforms placed a limit on the time people could be on sick leave. People who have been on state sick benefits for more than 180 days are now forced to either apply for work or training, or to seek lower sick benefits from Sweden's social insurance agency.

The popular America Blog drew parallels with the tile of Emelie Holmquist's website, Chlamydia Letter, and the predicament in which Reinfeldt found himself in the days running up to the election.

"A Chlamydia Letter in Sweden is the letter the government sends to inform you that someone you've slept with has an STD, and thus you need to be tested. What's ironic about the story going viral is that the Swedish Prime Minister, in a very real way, just got his own Chlamydia Letter only 48 hours before the most important election of his life."

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