Payment system for war veterans defended
Changes in the administration of payments to families of elderly war veterans were defended yesterday by the Ministry of Finance.
Officials said a new system for the payments, which included processing of claims overseas, was introduced last year to eliminate errors and the potential for fraud.
The ministry hit back after the families of veterans complained that the new system had led to delays, which inflicted financial hardship on claimants.
But two veterans’ families said yesterday the problems started only when the Government’s changes to the way payments were handled came into effect.
The daughter of a veteran’s widow, who is 85, said that her caregiver’s claims, which she submitted to the health insurance department, “used to work fine”.
She added: “It would take me a month to get paid. As of last summer, July 1, it changed.”
The woman said a three-month backlog left the family $10,000 behind in payments.
She added: “It’s now down to two months, which is an improvement, but still frustrating.”
She also questioned why she was told by the Department of Ageing and Disability Services last week that she would have to renew her qualifications as a home caregiver to her mother, the widow of a Second World War veteran, who needed round-the-clock care.
She said: “It’s a huge pain — I have between February 1 and April 30 to re-register.”
Another woman, the 90-year-old wife of a Second World War veteran, said that she did not need a caregiver, but her husband’s medical benefit statements had come each month with a claim that their coverage limit had been exceeded, which was wrong. She said the problem also started last July.
The woman, from St George’s, said she and her husband lived at home but needed the income from his war veteran’s payments to cover large medical bills.
She explained her husband had dementia and a heart condition and had to take 16 pills a day.
The woman said she “panicked” when she received the first warning that coverage had been exceeded, but was later told not to worry and that the medical costs would continue to be paid.
She added: “That was a relief, because we didn’t know what was happening. We’re still getting the notices.
“I have all my faculties, but there are others out there who might be worrying themselves into a panic if the same thing is happening to them.”
A spokeswoman for the finance ministry confirmed yesterday that the procedures for veteran’s benefits paid to caregivers were altered on July 1 last year.
She explained that the Department of Social Insurance took two weeks to handle claims from caregivers who had not registered with the health ministry’s Ageing and Disability Services.
Caretakers who were registered sent their claims for the care of war veterans to FutureCare, the Government’s health insurance scheme for seniors.
But she added that the department was unable to vet all time sheet submissions to determine the skill sets and duties of caregivers — leading to the possibility of FutureCare and social insurance duplicate claims.
The spokesman said a “flood” of claims had made it necessary to “streamline this process to prevent any potential abuse and duplication of payments”.
The departments of social insurance and financial assistance, and the Ministry of Health, overhauled the payment procedure early last year.
That included different levels of payments dependent on skill levels, with higher payments for registered nurses compared with unskilled relatives.
The spokeswoman added that extra skills were required for all caregivers, including CPR training.
She added that “integrity checks” also added to the processing time for claims.
The spokeswoman said all claims for veterans’ caregivers were sent to FutureCare and vetted.
She added the claims were submitted every week by caregivers and the health insurance department was given up to 30 days to process them.
But claims above $7,000 a month — the limit set by the pension commissioners — were sent on to the Department of Social Insurance, which takes up to a week to process them.
Claims were then sent to the Accountant-General’s offices for final payment, which could take another week.
The spokeswoman said that all caregiver claims covered by FutureCare were sent overseas for processing by the health insurance department.
The use of overseas facilities for processing payments originally began in 2010, following an RFP.
The arrangement meant that some parts of claims were processed on island and some overseas dependent on whether they were processed by FutureCare or the Department of Social Insurance.
But the spokeswoman insisted: “This entire process is now a lot smoother with the improved checks and balances in place.”