Dutch benefits agency illegally granted 1,900 Dutch lifelong benefits: report

An UWV location in Groningen (Fruggo/nl.wikipedia). ()

Dutch benefits agency UWV illegally awarded al lifelong benefit to at least 1,900 people with an occupational disability. The files of these sick Dutch people were briefly assessed by nurses, and not by an insurance physician as stated in the law, experts and a whistleblower at UWV said to RTL Nieuws.

The UWV manages the benefits for everyone in the Netherlands who are unfit to work. People are assessed to determine how sick they are, and how high the benefit they receive must be. According to Dutch law, this must be done by a insurance physician. The UWV is facing a major backlog in the approval of benefits due to a shortage of insurance physicians. At least 30 thousand files still have to be assessed, according to the broadcaster. The assessment of such cases takes place at a UWV office in Groningen. By deploying a team of 15 social-medical nurses, the UWV managed to finalize 2,555 of these cases in the space of a few months late in 2018.

The nurses determined whether the sick Dutch person had to be called in for a re-assessment, or whether he or she can be declared 100 percent unfit to work. In the latter case, the person is given a so-called IVA benefit until their retirement. According to the whistleblower, an employee of UWV, 80 to 90 percent of the cases they handled resulted in a lifelong benefit. UWV said it was 74 percent, according to RTL. 

"These files ended up with us and we had to finalize them quickly with a number of employees, without having seen or called the patient", the whistleblower said to the broadcaster. According to her, it was a lot more files than the 2,555 the UWV says. "In a matter of weeks, we quickly finalized five to six thousand files." According to the UWV employee, no doctor was involved in the assessment of the files. "We worked under an insurance physician, so we ultimately used his signature. He put his signature on a paper. And it was copied multiple times."

When asked about the matter, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment referred RTL to the UWV. The Ministry said it was not aware of the exact execution of this project. 

In a written response the UWV said to RTL that this work method is permitted. "The assessments were carried out under the responsibility of an insurance physician with a number of additional quality controls on top of that."

But experts RTL spoke to disagree. According to Barend Barentsen, Social Law professor at the University of Leiden, nurses are not allowed to make these kinds of decisions. "The law prescribes that an insurance physician must do that assessment. Always. This is also not allowed as a test or an exception", he said to the broadcaster. "It involves community money. That costs a lot of money and also needs support. Which is why we, as hard-working premium payers, must also know that it ends up with the right people." According to Barentsen, this working method seriously damaged the integrity of the UWV.

Wim van Pelt, chairman of the professional association for insurance physicians NOVAG, previously received signals that the UWV was very quickly granting benefits. "We asked questions about this to the management of the UWV, but apparently we have not received the correct answers now that I see the data from RTL Nieuws", he said to the broadcaster. He is surprised that social-medical nurses were given this task. "This is not allowed. An insurance physician must carry out these assessments. A doctor may delegate tasks, but the final decision must be made by an insurance physician."

Van Pelt called the 74 percent of the 2,555 files the UWV says ended in an IVA benefit "a suspiciously high percentage". "Based only on assessments in the medical 80-100 percent category, the percentage of IVA awarded in the past was 17 percent. This then deviates from what is customary at the UWV in the careful treatment of the assessment."