Sick pay claimants reapply for handouts

Every third person who was forced out of the sickness benefit system during the first three months of 2010 has reapplied for benefits, according to a new report.

In March alone 2,700 people were forced out of the system after their allocation for benefit days expired. But by June they were once again eligible, and a third have reapplied, with the figure likely to rise.

“It is probable that the figure will rise. It will come in at between 36 and 39 percent,” said Mathias Johansson at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan).

This estimate is in line with the 38 percent which the agency had expected would return from people forced out of the system under the terms of a reformed sickness benefit system introduced in July 2008.

Around 97-98 percent of those reapplying for sickness benefit are expected to be approved in due course, the report stated.

An increasing number of people are receiving rehabilitation training, according to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and the Regions (SALAR).

The number on multimodal rehabilitation (MMR) increased by 48 percent in the first half of 2010, compared to the same period 2009 and the number of treatments with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) increased by 36 percent.

“The results show that the county councils take the issue of rehabilitation very seriously. It is has been hard work to expand capacity so quickly,” wrote Marianne Granath at SALAR in a statement.

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 364 days within a 450 day period are now forced to either apply for work or training, or to seek lower sick benefits.

The reform also includes the regular assessment of claimants’ capacities against the labour market, with the first occurring after 90 days, then 180, and 365.

The issue came to a head just days before Sunday’s election when Emelie Holmquist used her blog to highlight the case of her mother, Annica Holmquist, who suffers from the rare condition acromegaly, that causes body parts to grow uncontrollably.

Fredrik Reinfeldt was forced on the defensive in the final Sveriges Television party leader debate when asked to comment on the implications of the case.

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