How can Socso overrule government medical reports and deny statutory board retirees their invalidity pensions, asks A J Patrick.
Employees in the statutory bodies who joined service before 15 January 1975 and who had opted for either the EPF Scheme or the Pension Scheme are eligible for benefits under the Socso Act 1969
However, employees retiring on medical grounds are denied the Invalidity Pension, which they are normally eligible for under the Socso Act. This is because they are deemed fit for work by the Socso Appellate Medical Board even though the Socso Primary Medical Board had earlier declared the employees permanently unfit for work. But this subsequent contrary finding by the Appellate Medical Board was most unjust.
How the Government Medical Board is convened
The Government Medical Board which recommends the employee to be medically boarded-out is constituted under Chapter ‘F’ of the General Orders. The Board consists of not less than two medical officers, one of whom, should preferably be an expert in the nature of the illness or injury from which the employee is suffering.
In extraordinary circumstances a private practitioner, who is considered competent, is appointed to assist in the Medical Board.
The Medical Board is convened for the following reasons:-
• when an employee is certified still unfit after all his normal sick leave entitlement has been exhausted (90 days with an extended 90 days medical leave);
• when a Medical Officer forms the opinion that there is no prospect for an employee becoming fit for duty;
• when in each of three successive years an employee has been absent on sick leave for a total of 45 days or more;
• when the mental or physical fitness of an employee is in doubt;
• when an employee has been injured in the course of duty;
• when an employee is certified to be suffering from tuberculosis, leprosy or cancer;
• when an employee or his family requires to be examined in order to obtain treatment in a foreign country as no such treatment is available in the country.
The Government Medical Board, if it finds an employee permanently unfit for work, recommends the employee to be medically boarded-out and he or she is paid pension and gratuity benefits under the Pension Act 1980.
So why can't Socso Board accept the Govt Medical Board report?
Even with such stringent measures imposed before a case is referred to the Government Medical Board, the Socso Board does not accept the Government Medical Report but refers the employee to the Socso Primary Medical Board to determine the invalidity question.
In one such case, the Socso Primary Medical Board, comprising three specialists, examined the employee clinically and radiologically (MRI) and declared that the employee was suffering from “Advanced Cervical Spondylosis” with ‘Radiculopathy’ which was of a permanent nature and approved payment of Invalidity Pension.
The Socso Board appealed to the Appellate Medical Board under Section 33 of the Socso Act to review the decision of the Primary Medical Board.
The Appellate Medical Board, also comprising three specialists, took only 90 seconds and, without examining the employee and without scrutinising the MRI and the X-Rays, which the Medical Board requested for, rescinded the decision of the Socso Primary Board for Invalidity Pension. This is a terrible injustice that cannot be condoned in our caring society. This absurd decision only reveals how callous some so-called specialists could be and yet their will prevails over good sense and fairness.
It is disturbing to note that the decision of the Government’s Medical Board can be overturned so easily in an haphazard manner by the Socso Appellate Medical Board. Is the Government Medical Board inferior to a statutory body’s (Socso) medical board?
In the event, the employee is in the EPF Scheme, he or she only receives his/her EPF savings.
The EPF Board, in almost all cases, accepts the Government Medical Board’s decision to enable the employee to withdraw his/her EPF savings. In these instances, no second opinion is sought to frustrate the employee.
It is sad to note that in the statutory bodies the ‘living’ do not enjoy Invalidity Pension benefits under the Socso Act but only those who died in service would qualify for Survivors’ Pension for their dependants
This is another sad episode in the life of employees in statutory bodies.
The Government should amend the Socso Act Section 33 (2) to allow only the insured person, if he is not satisfied with the decision of the Medical Board, to appeal. Since the Socso Board is making the referral to its Primary Medical Board it should honour the decision of the Primary Medical Board. It should therefore not be given the right to appeal against its own Medical Board’s decision if it is not in its favour. By appealing, it only shows that the Socso Board has no confidence in the very Primary Medical Board it turns to for a decision. It means it does not trust the competence of the Medical Board neither does it respect those who sit on the Medical Board.
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