Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Illness Benefit Reform
40. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the position in regard to the issue of medical certificates for illness benefit; the number of doctors who have accepted the new forms; the number still using the old certificates; if doctors who continue to operate with the old certificate since the changes were introduced have been compensated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53328/18]
This question relates to a unilateral decision by the Department to change the certification system for illness benefit without any notification or advanced consultation. Will the Minister indicate if the situation has settled down and if the new system is operating seamlessly?
I thank the Deputy for his question. Illness benefit is a scheme under which people who are unable to work due to illness or injury are entitled to receive a weekly payment from the Social Insurance Fund. The basic rate of payment for a single person is €198 per week. Entitlement to the payment, which may be made for up to two years, is contingent on a person's social insurance record and certification by a general practitioner, GP, as being unfit for work.
In regard to certification, it is important to point out that when the new certification form was introduced, the Department agreed that GPs could continue to use their existing stock of old forms until it was exhausted. While it is not possible to provide a breakdown on the number of GPs using the new forms, I can say that over 70% of the circa 9,000 certificates and claims received each day are in the new format. Currently, payments are made to GPs in respect of the old and new version of the form.
As the Deputy will know, issues have arisen in regard to the scheme over recent months and my Department has been working hard to resolve these issues and to ensure that claims are processed and paid promptly. We have made good progress in this regard, with payment levels maintained at the expected norm of in excess of 50,000 customers paid each week for almost the past two months.
Again, I reassure the Deputy that my Department has had a long and positive partnership with GPs over many years and is committed to maintaining good working relationships with our GP partners. In this regard, I confirm that discussions with GP representatives with respect to a move from paper to e-certification have just concluded successfully. I thank the GPs for their engagement. I expect e-certification to be introduced in the first half of next year. As acknowledged and accepted by the GPs, and hopefully will be acknowledged by those in receipt of illness benefit, this will significantly improve the scheme and make it much more efficient.
I thank the Minister for her response but the information I am getting contradicts it to some extent. The Minister said that GPs could continue to use the old forms until such time as stock was exhausted. The information available to me is such that photocopies of certificates are being submitted, which means GPs continued to use the old forms when stock ran out and they have been paid in respect of those photocopied forms. I have also been informed that some GPs who used the new forms have not been paid and, remarkably, that some GPs have been paid for services they did not perform. I have evidence of one cohort of GPs who received a letter of thanks from the Department for operating the new system despite the fact that they are not using it. There appears to be some confusion. Is the Minister sure that 70% of GPs are using the new forms?
I am absolutely sure that 70% or in excess of 9,000 certificates coming into the Department every day are the new forms. I am also absolutely sure that we made it perfectly clear when we issued the circular to GPs on 6 August that we would pay for the new forms but we would also continue to pay in respect of the old forms until such time as all stock of the old forms in our GP offices and clinics was exhausted. Photocopies do not constitute an old form. We would have an issue paying people who submit photocopies of old forms because the Comptroller and Auditor General would not allow us to do so.
Photocopies do not have the required processes and protocols that we had in the old system. They are not an original form and are not, therefore, deemed eligible by the Department. The Department receives more than 9,000 new forms each day. Some general practitioners who have a stock of the old forms are still using them and we will continue to pay them. GPs are paid quarterly. I am not sure who is suggesting to the Deputy they are being paid for work they have not carried out. If the Deputy has any names, I would be very happy to follow up on the issue. We pay GPs four times a year. The last quarterly payment was made in November.
All GPs got the same letter. We did not send a letter to specifically thank those who moved to the new forms and exclude those who continued to use the existing stock of forms. All GPs were thanked for their co-operation in moving to a new system which it is hoped will provide better efficiencies for them and even greater efficiencies for recipients of illness benefit.
Can the Minister confirm that nobody who used a photocopied form has been paid? Is she aware of a survey done by the national GP forum in recent weeks that indicated that 70% of GPs surveyed were still using the old forms or photocopies? Is she also aware there are a number of legal cases pending against the Department in respect of this matter? I am told there are at least five such cases.
I am absolutely confident in confirming to the Deputy that we have not and will not pay any GP who has sent in certificates with photocopies. I am not aware or a survey conducted by the national GP forum but I am keen to read it. I know the statistics and they show that 9,000 certificates come in every day on new forms. They are the stock we are replenishing. We are not replenishing the old forms. I am also aware of the very successful conclusion of lengthy deliberations with the Irish Medical Organisation in recent months. I know the IMO has welcomed the position we agreed last week and I very much welcome its co-operation and look forward to working with it in the future.
I am not aware of legal cases. If there are some, we will take them in the spirit in which they are brought.