Alternatives to Workers’ Comp: Paranoia or Possibility

I joined a national organization of lawyers representing injured workers (the Work Injury Law and Advocacy Group) twenty years ago when it was first formed. Then, I heard horror stories about legislators messing with an otherwise stable workers’ compensation system after every election cycle. My colleagues in other states were constantly fighting battles over workers’ compensation “deform.” 

I thought we were insulated in Wisconsin because we had a workers’ compensation advisory council composed of labor and management who every two years fought out a compromise bill and submitted it to the legislature, which automatically rubber-stamped the proposed bill without changes. That changed in Wisconsin in 2014. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Republican legislature rejected the “agreed upon” bill proposed by the workers’ compensation advisory council, despite the approval of the bill by management members.

Governor Scott Walker’s most recent budget contains a provision to dismantle the workers’ compensation system as we know it. Those of us representing injured workers (and those rational members on the management side) are busy lobbying to remove the workers’ compensation dismantling provisions from the budget.

It is no secret that many major corporations dislike workers’ compensation, despite statistics indicating premiums are at their lowest for employers, and profits at their highest for insurers. However, nearly two dozen major corporations including Wal-Mart, Nordstrom’s and Safeway are behind a multi-state lobbying effort to make it harder for workers hurt on the job to collect workers’ compensation benefits. The companies have financed a lobbying group the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC) that has already helped write legislation designed to have employers “opt out” of a State workers’ compensation system. ARAWC has already helped write legislation in Tennessee. That group’s executive director Richard Evans told an insurance journal in November that the corporations ultimately want to change workers’ compensation laws in all fifty states. Lowe’s, Macy’s, Kohl’s, SYSCO Food Services, and several insurance companies are also part of the effort. The mission of ARAWC is to pass laws allowing private employers to opt out of the traditional workers’ compensation plans that almost every state requires businesses to carry. Employers who opt out would still be compelled to purchase workers’ compensation plans, but would be allowed to write their own rules governing when, for how long, and for which reasons an injured employee can receive medical benefits and wages. Two states, Texas and Oklahoma, already allow employers to opt out of State-mandated workers’ comp. In that state, for example, Wal-Mart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician and the arbitration company that hears disputes. A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that less half the companies offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents. 

Oklahoma passed an opt out measure in January 2014 and the oil and gas industry along with major retailers such as Hobby Lobby pushed hard for the change. ARAWC wants to take that Texas and Oklahoma model nationwide. Seeing the workers’ compensation provision in Wisconsin’s budget bill as part of this overall “scheme” may seem paranoid, but the history of recent “deform” legislation suggest the connection is at least a possibility. 

See the complete article at http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/arawc-walmart-campaign-against-workers-compensation.

Workers’ Comp Programs Further Injure Injured Workers

Those of us who represent injured workers have known for a long time that workers’ compensation does not restore an injured worker to his pre-injury wage or status.  Two reports released in March show how workplace injuries have failed injured workers and leave them deeper in debt.  OSHA released a report indicating the changes in workers’ compensation programs have made it much more difficult for injured workers to receive benefits or medical expenses.  Although employers pay insurance premiums to workers’ compensation insurance companies who are supposed to pay benefits for medical expenses, employers provide just 20% of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries through workers’ compensation according to the OSHA report. 

This “cost shifting” is borne by the taxpayer.  As a result of this cost shifting, taxpayers are subsidizing the vast majority of the income and medical care costs of injured workers.  After a work injury, injured workers’ incomes average more than $30,000 lower over a decade than if they had not been injured.  Additionally, very low wage workers are injured at a disproportionate rate. 

Another report by ProPublica and National Public Radio found that 33 states have workers’ compensation laws that reduced benefits or made it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for benefits.  Those hurdles, combined with employers and insurers increasing control of medical decisions (such as whether an injured worker needs surgery) reduced the worker’s likelihood of obtaining the medical care needed.

Overall, injured workers who should be paid under workers’ compensation are receiving less benefits and their medical care is being dodged by insurers and paid for by taxpayers through Medicaid and Medicare, or by increased insurance premiums for all of us through group health insurance rate increases.

Our general sense that injured workers are faring poorly is borne out by the research.

Workplace injury, illness costs being foisted on workers, government, OSHA’s Michaels says

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.publicintegrity.org

Workers and taxpayers writ large are shouldering the costs of workplace injuries and illnesses, as the changing nature of work leaves states and employers with increasingly less liability, according to a report released today by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The OSHA report, “Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job,” notes that employer-provided workers’ compensation insurance benefits cover only 21 percent of the actual costs of a workplace injury or illness, including lost wages, medical expenses and rehabilitation.

Only a fraction of workers apply for or receive benefits, the report says, because of job insecurity, fear of retaliation from employers, or because they don’t know they’re entitled to such benefits.  As  many as 97 percent of work-related illnesses  go uncompensated because symptoms are often linked to workplace exposures long after employment ends, if they are linked at all.

Most of the costs of injuries and illnesses are borne by workers themselves, according to the report.  Government programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicaid cover 16 percent, private health insurance 13 percent.

“By forcing the costs of injury and illness onto workers, their families and the taxpayer, unsafe employers have fewer incentives to eliminate workplace hazards and actually prevent injuries and illnesses from occurring,” the report…

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Worker Safety: OSHA Holds Wisconsin Furniture Plant Accountable

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Just wow. The lawyers and employees who write blog posts for rehmlaw.com and truckerlawyers.com focus pretty frequently on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nebraska and Iowa, along with Kansas and Missouri, happen to be in Region 7, so the focus is usually on those news releases from OSHA.

Every workplace safety lapse is one too many, especially when problems come to light because of an incident where a worker is injured or killed. Sometimes a person has to stop and do a double-take as to the specifics, just because the details might seem a little bit more on the extreme or unusual side. Today’s blog post focus of an Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. plant in Wisconsin fits the intense criteria very well, just because of the sheer quantity of injuries and the large fine proposed.

This link from Claims Journal gives more details. The takeaways that just make a person stop are in the numbers listed below.

In less than four years – 42 months:

  • “More than 1,000 work-related injuries”
  • “12 willful, 12 repeated and 14 serious safety violations” from an inspection after a worker lost three fingers in July
  • $1.76 million in fines proposed by OSHA: that’s $1,760,000!
  • The company was “placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for failing to address safety hazards,” according to the Claims Journal article.

Although “Ashley Furniture said less than 1-in-4 of the cases required any time away from work … (and) the most common injury was muscle strains and sprains,” that is still a large number of incidents to consider. The article also contained this quote: “‘At Ashley, each employee’s safety and well-being is an absolute priority,’ said Steve Ziegeweid, Ashley Furniture’s director of health and safety.”

But most workers’ compensation lawyers would tend to side with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, as quoted from a news release: “Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price.”

The workers’ compensation system is broken — and it’s driving people into poverty

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.washingtonpost.com

There’s a good news/bad news situation for occupational injuries in the United States: Fewer people are getting hurt on the job. But those who do are getting less help.

That’s according to a couple of important new reports out Wednesday on how the system for cleaning up workplace accidents is broken — both because of the changing circumstances of the people who are getting injured, and the disintegration of programs that are supposed to pay for them.

The first comes from the Department of Labor, which aims to tie the 3 million workplace injuries reported per year — the number is actually much higher, because many workers fear raising the issue with their employers — into the ongoing national conversation about inequality. In an overview of research on the topic, the agency finds that low-wage workers (especially Latinos) have disproportionately high injury rates, and that injuries can slice 15 percent off a person’s earnings over 10 years after the accident.

“Income inequality is a very active conversation led by the White House,” David Michaels, director of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, said in an interview. “Injuries are knocking many families out of the middle class, and block many low-wage workers from getting out of poverty. So we think it’s an important component of this conversation.”

There are two main components to the financial implications of a workplace injury. The first is the legal…

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Insult to Injury: Is Income Inequality Tied to Worker Safety?

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

guadalupe

Guadalupe González doesn’t know if she’s going to be able to make it much longer.

The East Boston resident used to hold a full time position as a cleaner for Sodexo. Much of her time working was spent on the campus of Lasell College, located in the wealthy Boston suburb of Newton, where she was paid $10.80 an hour for her labor. Weighed down by her buckets and supplies, she would rush, at Sodexo’s insistence, from building to building across the campus often on uneven terrain.

When Guadalupe fell it was devastating; she knew instantly what her mangled ankle meant. She was going to have to take a break from her physically demanding job, a break she just couldn’t afford. Three surgeries later, Guadalupe is no closer to returning to work than the day she was injured. She is in nearly constant pain and requires a cane to walk. Worse yet, Guadalupe now receives a mere 60 percent of her former earnings, making it almost impossible to buy food, pay bills and make rent. Sadly, Guadalupe is not alone. She is one of at least three million workers seriously injured every year in the United States. She is one of many workers who will lose more than 15 percent in wages over ten years because of their injury while bearing nearly 50 percent of its cost. For workers like Guadalupe, the American dream quickly becomes a nightmare. These injuries and illnesses contribute to the pressing issue of income inequality: they force working families out of the middle…

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Employers Complain of Rising Premiums, But Workers’ Comp Is at 25-Year Low

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from projects.propublica.org

Source: Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

Note: There are two additional data sources available for understanding employer costs in regards to workers’ compensation — the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Academy of Social Insurance. ProPublica selected Oregon’s data because it was the most suited for comparisons between states. While all three studies vary in exact cost from year to year, the downward trend is reflected in all three. A specific company’s premium will be determined by its industry, injury experience, and any discounts offered by its insurance company.

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Medical Procedures: What do they cost?

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Blue Cross Blue Shield has created an online pricing tool to help patients compare prices of about 1,200 non-emergency medical procedures. Patients can now search for the best financial deal for services offered within North Carolina.

 By exposing this previously undisclosed information, patients are now able to go and see services according to the databases average procedure costs. The pricing tool also reveals the most expensive and most affordable option for each procedure.

In order to look up costs and doctors available to preform your procedure, you first access the pricing tool at: http://www.bcbsnc.com/content/providersearch/treatments/index.htm#/ . Then, you enter the treatment or service you would like in the first blank, your current location, and how many miles you are willing to travel for the service. Once you have entered all of this information, you just click search and your results will be immediately displayed. You can organize your results by cost, provider name, or distance.

 

To see the original article by John Murawski in The News and Observer explaining the pricing tool, click below:

http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/01/31/4516241_blue-cross-pricing-tool-could.html#storylink=misearch