Is the workers’ compensation system in decline?
In a 2015 report on the state of workers’ compensation by ProPublica/NPR entitled “Demolition of Workers’ Comp,” investigators paints a very dreary picture of an archaic system that has strayed too far from its humble intentions. The painting includes a man who lost a hand in a work-related accident, who was told by his doctor that he would be a perfect candidate for a robotic hand. As the story goes, he was instructed by the workers’ compensation insurer to visit another doctor, in another state. The second doctor recommended a (cheaper) metal hook as a replacement after one visit with the worker.
This story is symptomatic of systemic changes across the country. Insurance companies are reporting record profit highs, while employers are paying the lowest workers’ comp rates in over 40 years. While most workers only need minor medical care, the workers who lose limbs, lose eyes, or suffer debilitating injuries are left fighting for their right to survive. Inconsistencies within each state also lead to massive discrepancies between benefits—if you receive an eye injury in Alabama, you’ll get almost a tenth of what you would be entitled to in Pennsylvania.
The Root of the Issue: Massive Cutbacks
All of this stems from massive cutbacks on workers’ comp programs in states all over the U.S. Thirty-three states have passed “reform” that either lower benefits or shrunk the list of qualifying injuries. Florida alone has cut benefits to workers with disabling injuries by 65% since 1994, despite the fact that workers’ compensation insurance rates are the lowest they’ve ever been. The rising cost of healthcare hasn’t led to an increase in workers’ comp rates—but it’s made benefits more vital than ever.
In the end, these reforms aren’t aimed at helping workers—they’re written for businesses and insurers. Why else would many states put a time limit on benefits, regardless of whether a worker is recovered? Oklahoma passed a law in 2013 that was written by a lawyer at a drilling company and a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce—neither of whom speak for workers or act on their behalf.
These “reforms” should be called exactly what they are: an attack on the basic protections all workers are entitled to, written to break the contract between laborers and employers.
“Reforms” & Revisions Shift Burden of Payment
Sweeping revisions came in the early 1970s as Congress developed a commission to examine and reassess state laws of workers’ compensation. As a result, 19 recommendations were accepted as the foundation for modern workers’ compensation benefits. In the 1990s, another round of cutbacks began, which continued into the 2000s. State regulations became more business-friendly by lowering workers’ compensation coverage premiums to encourage new business’ growth. As a result, the public has had to take on much of that burden.
Programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance, and other taxpayer-funded efforts are making up for what employers have ceased to pay for. The injuries no longer covered by workers’ comp represent over $10 billion in costs.
To read the article in its entirety (and we recommend that you do), click here.
It Remains Vital that Workers Have Lawyers
This article highlights a major issue in the legal landscape: workers don’t have advocates anymore. There’s no one representing their interests in state legislatures, while employers and lobbyists continue to give themselves greater control over the health of injured employees. Until lawmakers begin to act on behalf of laborers, a worker’s strongest route to compensation is through the courtroom. Workers’ compensation lawyers act on your behalf against insurance adjusters, employers, and their teams in order to argue for what you truly need: medical care and lost wages until you’re fully recovered.
Handler Henning & Rosenberg has been keeping current with all new laws, regulations, and restrictions placed upon Pennsylvania’s injured workers who file for worker’s comp benefits. We handle work injury cases all the time, and have been helping the people of Pennsylvania since 1922. We have locations throughout Pennsylvania to serve you.
If you are hurt and cannot come to us, we will come to you in the hospital or at your home. We offer a free consultation on your legal options—call (888) 498-3023 today so we can get started right away.