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 post on her Klamydiabrevet (Chlamydia Letter) blog 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 last week.
Emelie Holmquist’s post 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 and became a hot topic of controversy in the run up to Sunday’s election.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt was forced on the defensive in last Friday’s party leader debate and the issue is widely credited to have given a late, if small, boost to the centre-left opposition, and perhaps deprived the centre-right Alliance of an overall majority in parliament.
While Reinfeldt underlined that it is unconstitutional for a prime minister to comment on an individual case managed by a government agency, he admitted that on the face of it the appeal seemed to have some merit and the Social Insurance Agency promised to review Annica Holmquist’s case.
That review has now been completed and the agency has come to the conclusion that the correct procedure has been followed and Holmquist will lose her benefits.
“Social Insurance Agency specialists have looked at the case and concluded that the decision is correct, despite the fact that (Social Insurance Agency director-general) Stig Orustfjord promised on Friday that a solution would be found,” said Emelie Holmquist.
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.
The Holmquists retain the right to appeal the decision, but Emelie Holmquist was unable to confirm on Monday whether her mother planned to exercise that right.
Emelie Holmquist confirmed on Tuesday that she is due to meet with the agency to receive an explanation of their decision.
“It is not a question of specifying a solution. They are going to explain how they have reasoned,” she said to news agency TT.
Fredrik 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.