"Insult to Injury" is the apt title of Pro Public and National Public Radio's series which began today with "The Demolition of Worker's Comp." Today's report highlighted several harmful results of the so-called "reform" movement in state workers' compensation laws, pushed largely by business and insurance interests. The authors detailed the erosion of workers' rights over the last 30 years, state by state, and drew attention to the outrageous discrepancies between states- for instance, a toe lost on the job in California is worth only $6,000.00, while the same injury will result in $90,000.00 in compensation in next-door neighbor Oregon; the maximum compensation for loss of an eye is $27,280.00 in Alabama, but is $261,525.00 in Pennsylvania. In 37 States, injured workers can not choose their own doctor or are restricted to a list provided by their employers.
The "race to the bottom" has been fueled by states' attempts to compete with each other for jobs; the Chamber of Commerce and insurance lobby has apparently convinced many legislatures that 'reforms' are needed to keep business in the states viable.
Reform Efforts Based on False Premise
Rebutting the assumption that higher workers compensation premiums are hindering economic growth, the report explains that workers-compensation related costs are at their lowest point in the last thirty years, while comp insurance companies enjoyed handsome 18% profits in 2013.
Private Profits Increased at Public Expense
As cited in the article, $30 Billion is the estimated price tag in direct public benefits expenses resulting from "reforms" that left injured workers with no choice but to obtain government assistance through food stamps and medicaid because their workers' compensation was insufficient to meet their medical bills and day to day expenses of living. The study cited, by UC Davis health economist J. Paul Leigh, estimated that workers' comp covered less than a third of injured workers' medical costs in 2007, leaving public assistance to pick up the tab.
Stories of Lives Ruined
In addition to tidily presenting analysis of an enormous amount of data, the article tells stories of injured workers that have been let down by the system. One story detailed the travails of a warehouse worker who was crushed by a pallet, resulting in parapalegia. Based on a review process recently enacted in his home state, California, a medical doctor in another state reviewed his medical records, and without even seeing him caused his home-health aid coverage to be cancelled. This cancellation left him to sit in his own feces for several hours at a time while he waited for his wife or kids to return home from work or school. Another worker, who lost a hand working in North Dakota's oil fields was denied the prosthetic his doctor recommended in favor of one the "independant" medical expert recommended- a hook!
Workers' compensation laws were passed as part of a grand bargain for the greater good: workers gave up their right to sue employers for on the job injuries in return for a certain level of security in knowing that their medical bills would be paid and they would be provided for if their injuries left them unable to work or curtailed their ability to work in the same job. Today, industry has violated that bargain, as cost-cutting measures have been enacted in a large majority of states. In fact, of the 19 standard protections recommended to Congress by a President Nixon- appointed commission to be made mandatory to all the states, only five states currently guarantee 15!
The State of North Carolina has seen its share of pro-business reduction in worker's protections also; among other things, the 2011 amendment to the Worker's Compensation Act created caps on the benefits an injured worker may receive for permanent disabilities.
The North Carolina workers' compensation lawyers at Edelstein & Payne are experienced and successful. We have helped countless injured workers throughout the state obtain the full benefits to which they are entitled under the law, and are available for consultation and representation at our downtown Raleigh office. Give us a call to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys, or fill out the contact form on the right side of this page if you have a short, simple question.