Gov't launches effort to stop benefit fraud

By Penny Bouloutza

Virtually all welfare benefits currently granted by the state are set to be scrutinized by officials at the Health Ministry in the coming months in a bid to combat extensive cases of fraud.

All benefit recipients will have to register at a Citizens? Advice Bureau (KEP). Municipalities are about to start sending out notifications for the process, which is expected to last through February, and when the registration period is up authorities will go through the collected data in a bid to identify cases of fraud that appear to mostly involve multiple registrations.

Prompted by recent allegations of bogus benefit claims, the ministry has drawn up a rather unusual national disabilities map depicting suspiciously high incidences of particular ailments. Residents of Viotia, central Greece, for example, appear particularly sensitive to asthma attacks as an unusually high number of patients receive benefits for the illness.

Similarly, the southeast Aegean island of Kalymnos appears to have an exorbitantly large occurrence of mental ailments, while Zakynthos in the Ionian could well be described as the ?island of the blind.? A doctor on the island allegedly charged 5,000 euros to provide blindness certificates.

Meanwhile, data on Thessaloniki collected by the ministry point to a significant rise in the number of people with severe disabilities particularly among Roma and ethnic Greeks from the Black Sea region. More than 1,150 inhabitants were in 2010 listed as heavily disabled, prompting Deputy Health Minister Markos Bolaris to say that the figure ?would have been appropriate if Greece had fought in the Vietnam War.? Corinth also has an inordinately high number of disabled benefit claimants.

Some 210,000 people are currently earmarked for benefits, a figure that is mainly attributed to multiple registrations, which Bolaris describes as ?provocative.?

Municipalities are not free of blame for the situation, since they have failed to make use of a digital database, known as the Greek Public Administration Network (OPSNA), which alerts of multiple entries. But according to Bolaris, some municipalities have deactivated the system while others have installed their own software. There is also a number of municipalities that have stuck with written records.

Following the new census, authorities are hoping to trim at least 250 million euros from a total 6.2 billion spent annually on social welfare benefits, Bolaris said, while multiple registrations will be erased.

People who receive benefits for disabilities, housing and other categories of beneficiaries are to be invited to sign up at their local KEP between February 1 and March 15 providing full details. Benefit claimants can give power of attorney to someone else in cases where they themselves are unable to show up at the KEP.