The stories behind recent shifts in workers’ compensation laws aren’t pretty. One man, paralyzed from the waist down, had his home health aide taken away from him. Another, suffering from a debilitating back injury, was evicted from his home after being unable to pay rent. These stories are unfortunately anything but uncommon as workers’ compensation throughout the country takes a serious turn for the worse.
Two recent articles shared on NPR addressed this very issue and the toll that it is taking on injured workers. When workers’ compensation first emerged back in the Industrial Age, the premises was fairly simple: forego your right to sue and instead, get compensated for your injuries that occurred on the job. The waters have gotten quite muddied since then.
Budget cuts, restrictions, and new procedures are all making life extremely difficult for those injured while at work. What has been advertised as “reform” may actually be anything but and injured workers aren’t the only ones suffering – taxpayers are, too.
What seems to be the problem here?
It is only natural to assume that issues like this would be publicized across the country. However due to a lack of monitoring by the federal government, the only people who are actually aware of any problems are those directly affected by them.
Some states have completely eliminated the injured worker’s right to choose their own doctor. Now the decision-making power has been passed on to employers and their insurers. Additionally, benefits are being reduced and the amount of time to receive those benefits is quickly dwindling, as well.
According to certain research, it even appears that taxpayers are footing the bills for what employers should actually be responsible for. This is allowable in large part because it is passing quietly under the eyes of the federal government.
One of the biggest issues for injured workers in California lies in the way medical disputes are now resolved. These disputes are being reviewed by “independent medical reviewers.” In other words, doctors who are often licensed out of state, rely only on medical records, and are allowed to stay anonymous. To make matters worse, their decisions can very rarely be overturned.
This law is retroactive, meaning that is also applies to old cases. Victims who are in desperate need of medical care are having their cases denied simply because of a misinformed opinion or the use of an erroneous medical record.
Time for a change – but where do we start?
The statistics aren’t pretty no matter which way you look at it. One study showed that employers pay only 21 percent of the costs of workplace injuries through workers’ compensation. 50 percent falls on the victims’ families and the other 16 percent? Left to the taxpayers.
Fewer and fewer states throughout the U.S. still choose to follow the workers’ comp recommendations made during the Nixon administration. Other states simply don’t care to investigate the ongoing problems very thoroughly.
It is clear that there is a problem, but proactively addressing it will take some serious effort. As pointed out by NPR, these ‘reforms’ are quickly swallowing up the voice of injured workers.