Tsahkna: people must not pay the bigger bills

Margus Tsahkna

PHOTO: Jaanus Lensment

Yesterday, social protection minister Margus Tsahkna (IRL) interviewed by Postimees said he understands the panic in parents when getting the unexpectedly big bills for technical aids and is not about to justify mistakes made. 

- You say this was mere communication glitch though the companies providing technical aids asked to put the amendment and regulation on hold. Whence the hurry and the communication problem? Why didn’t the people know about the bigger bills to come?

First about hurrying. The reform has been in preparation for over two years. That’s a very long time.

Secondly, we need to talk about what we set out to change. The current system was about offering the aids according to counties. Therefore, options for the people were limited, there was no genuine competition. The other problem was an embarrassment for the state as by September the money always ran out. Then the people in need failed to get the aids and had to wait till end of year approximately when the state added something from leftovers.  

The reform is aimed to make the system more flexible. Now, it is state-regulated, Estonia is a single region and in that sense the people have much more options from where to get the aids. A major victory with the budget negotiations was that we secured additional €2.4m so the embarrassment will be no more.

- For the state, it must be embarrassing to have the ministry’s website state that in New Year technical aids will become more easily accessible and the procedures swifter; but the bills have arrived and by law reference price has been set for the technical aids  (the part of costs to be covered by user – edit). The worst seems to be that the reference price is equal for adults and children while technical aids for children are more expensive. Couldn’t you foresee that?    

I understand the panic and will not justify anything. Rather, this truly is a communication glitch and for that I apologise. I have given specific orders to social insurance board to put an end to this mess.

All the people to whom Invaru OÜ has posted the bigger bill will be personally contacted. By this morning (yesterday – edit) we knew of 24 people who had turned to us with such complaints. Overall they must be about 200. In Estonia, technical aids are used by 70,000 people.

All these people will be contacted and I will tell them plainly: pleased do not pay these bills which have been sent to you. These bills will be reviewed, in any case nobody will need to pay more. In the future, there will be no price rise; rather, the prices ought to begin to come down long-term.  

- What will you do with these bills now?

The people will pay what they paid before, social insurance board will cover the difference. Whoever has paid already, will get the money back.  

The confusion of the great reform must be speedily liquidated, the people calmed down, and the system allowed to operate.

- You say there will be no price rise. Would you please explain the clients what the reference price means, as introduced this year.

The idea was that the compensation money being taxpayer money, the companies providing the aids used to be motivated to offer aids as expensive as possible seeing the state covered the rest of the cost. Now we see more precisely which aids are prescribed to whom. Meanwhile, the option is created to get aids cheaper and more flexibly.

- But even if the people do choose cheaper aids, the reference price remains – to be paid personally. Is it correct to state there will be no price rise?

Officials at the ministry assure me the reference prices are calculated so as to have no price rise. Rather, we will use money more expediently and more transparently.

- But with the multiple times more expensive aids for children, will the reference price stand of are you planning some change?

Definitely the prices and expenses for parents of disabled kids should not rise.

- They have...

This is with one company, the others have not sent bigger bills. This shows this is no systemic error, but a specific case to be solved.

The other half is that the system is not rigid. I have always said we must take a personal approach to people and special solutions are prescribed: if a child needs several aids, say, or a more expensive solution, we must facilitate. Thus far the problem was not the lack of money but that the system was opaque, inflexible, county-based.

- About the communication... the ministry has no lack of communication specialists. Who was no note of explanation sent to the people?

The problem was we had no lists of the people getting the aids. Now, we got the lists from Invaru (the technical aid rental company) and via these we will contact the people.

I do admit the notification was insufficient and I do have an issue with that myself.

- Humanly, what is your message to the troubled parents?

Firstly, be at peace. Secondly, don’t pay the bill. You will shortly be personally contacted by social insurance board.

- They do not have to turn to anybody themselves?

No. They may contact the board but they do not have to. They will be contacted shortly and the case solved.