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Kela to revisit controversial new criteria for therapy provider tendering

New public tendering criteria favouring price over quality have caused a backlash from families with special needs children.

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Image: Oleksandr Rupeta / AOP

Public benefits administrator Kela announced on Monday that it will launch an investigation into its revised tendering policy for medical rehabilitation services. The agency said it expects to complete the probe in March 2019.

Last March, Kela started evaluating therapy providers in Finland using new criteria that assigned an 80-percent weighting to price and 20 percent to quality, compared to the former 50/50 ratio.

A significant backlash ensued, as parents of children in therapy feared a drop in service quality and availability as a result of the bidding reform.

News service Lännen Media reported on Friday that the chair of Kela's group of parliamentary trustees, MP Sari Sarkomaa, and member trustee MP Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto both criticised Kela's new public tendering policy. They maintain that Kela has failed in its evaluation of tenders for medical rehabilitation services.

One week ago, Finland's Market Court overturned Kela's tendering decisions on disabled person's interpreter services, finding that the unit in charge of managing the process had violated public procurement guidelines.

Many trusted therapists rejected

Almost 38,000 customers received therapy as part of their intensive medical rehabilitation in Finland in 2016, the last year for which figures are available. Intensive medical rehabilitation is primarily offered to people with a diagnosed illness or impairment that makes it difficult for them to participate in daily activities.

People who have been judged by a doctor to be entitled to these rehabilitation services can independently select therapy providers, as long as they have a service agreement with Kela. Physical, occupational and speech therapy, as well as neuropsychological rehabilitation are some of the many therapy options available.

Because of the new tender criteria, however, many providers that previously had agreements with Kela have now been dropped.

A press release from the Children's Physiotherapy Association last week said that 140 specialist physiotherapists that had previously provided intensive medical rehabilitation to children with special needs will no longer be on Kela's list of suppliers as of 1 January 2019.

"Breaking up a therapy relationship can have dire consequences for years. It takes time before a new provider can establish trust and build an interactive relationship. This doesn't apply to just the professionals, as it is even more true for the customers," said the Association's chair Reetta Tuomisto.

Kela announced last week that it would be contacting each of its customers whose service providers will change at the turn of the year due to the new tendering process.

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