Invalidity pension not for everyone
Published on: Sunday, January 12, 2020
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INVALIDITY is a permanent inability to work because of an illness or incapacity. Injuries and illnesses are an inevitable part of life but advancements in medical technology and clinical modalities offer innovative treatment and sophisticated rehabilitation for many illnesses and injuries.

The goal of treatment is to enable the patient to function as he or she did prior to the illness or injury. Even with residual impairment, the rehabilitation process should enable a person to continue being a productive member of society. Society and employers, meanwhile, must be supportive in providing access to employment for impaired persons. This is why invalidity is not always the outcome of injury or illness.

When illness or incapacity impairs a person’s ability to earn, social assistance is needed. This comes in many forms, and in the case of Malaysia, social assistance for workers who suffer from invalidity is provided through the invalidity pension managed by the Social Security Organisation (Socso).

The scenario in Malaysia, however, is different. A large number of applications for invalidity pensions come from workers nearing retirement age who have nondebilitating chronic diseases. Socso received some 38,000 applications for invalidity pensions in 2018, marking a continuous upward trend in such claims over the last decade. 

However, 50pc of the claims were found to be due to noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, complications of diabetes and others. Remarkably, a large percentage of these claims came within just a few years prior to the applicants’ retirement.

Only a portion of these claims were confirmed to be genuinely invalid. This is not surprising as many of the applications were for illnesses or injuries that do not cause permanent incapability to do any work. There is no doubt that an illness or injury can leave a person with a permanent disability, but this does not necessarily translate into permanent unemployability, and when it doesn’t, it is not deemed as an invalidity.

Every person, when they reach a certain age, will experience some form of degenerative disease such as back and neck pain, hypertension, coronary disease, myocardial infarction, tumours and others. However, these diseases cannot be an excuse for not working. 

Most of these diseases are treatable and patients can perform daily tasks and continue working. Despite that, some workers with these diseases choose to discontinue working as they consider themselves invalids. In this case, they can work but they refuse to work.

In assessing the invalidity applications, we observe several types of applicants. In the first instance, Socso’s insured person is disabled due to illness or injury and, despite optimum treatment, the impairment is so severe that it incapacitates his ability to earn. 

As stipulated in the Employees’ Social Security Act 1969, an insured person is considered to be suffering from invalidity due to a specific morbid condition of permanent nature, either incurable or not likely to be cured, and is no longer capable of earning from work (that matches his strength and physical ability) at least one-third of the earnings of an able person. 

The condition of invalidity must occur before the age of 60, which is the age of coverage provided by the Act. In such cases, the invalidity condition is justified for a social security benefit, ie the invalidity pension.

Socso often receives applications for invalidity pensions from workers who sustained an illness or injury resulting in a certain level of impairment but who are still capable of working. In these cases, the social security approach is to facilitate their return to work so they can continue being productive members of society.

The approach includes providing physical and medical rehabilitation through our facilities, work accommodation or disability management from the employers, or retraining or reskilling the workers based on their abilities.

We also receive applications from those with only the slightest of morbidity but who claim to be incapable of any work.

More often than not, they are nearing retirement age and our invalidity pension is seen as a form of financial security for their retirement years. 

The fact is that invalidity is decided by a panel of independent experts on Socso’s medical board, based purely on the treatment and prognosis of the illness or injury. This will invariably result in the rejection of such invalidity applications, causing disappointed applicants to complain about Socso in social and mass media and even to the minister.

Socso members must remember that the invalidity pension is provided for workers who are deemed to be invalid, and is not given out based on whether the workers think that they cannot work.

To determine a worker is an invalid is a crucial decision to make as it makes society shoulder the financial obligations of the worker for the rest of his or her life. At Socso, we believe the best form of social security is the ability to work, put food on the table and be financially secure. In fact, work is more than a way of making a living, it provides us with dignity as a person and as a productive member of the society.

Despite our best intentions, the invalidity pension is seen by some as the answer to post-retirement security. There should not be misconceptions among the public about the purpose of Socso’s invalidity pension and post-retirement social security.

The way forward is for the government to fill the gap in the country’s social security coverage by establishing a national old-age pension scheme to take care of Malaysians in their post-retirement period. Malaysia’s ageing demographic urgently calls for such a scheme as it has been projected that by 2030, more than five million Malaysians will be over 60 years old. It is imperative for the country to have an old-age scheme so that Malaysians will no longer wrongly assume that the invalidity pension scheme will pay for their unproductive years, as this assumption threatens the sustainability of Socso funds.

 

n Dr Mohammed Azman Aziz

Chief executive officer, Social Security Organisation (Socso)





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