NPR: Injured Workers Suffer as ‘Reforms’ Limit Workers’ Compensation Benefits

NPR: Injured Workers Suffer as ‘Reforms’ Limit Workers’ Compensation Benefits

From the article:

“ProPublica analyzed reams of insurance industry data, studied arcane state laws and obtained often confidential medical and court records to provide an unprecedented look at the unwinding of workers’ comp laws across the country.

Among the findings:

  • Since 2003, legislators in 33 states have passed workers’ comp laws that reduce benefits or make it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for them. Florida has cut benefits to its most severely disabled workers by 65 percent since 1994.
  • Where a worker gets hurt matters. Because each state has developed its own system, an amputated arm can literally be worth two or three times as much on one side of a state line as on the other. The maximum compensation for the loss of an eye is $27,280 in Alabama, but $261,525 in Pennsylvania.
  • Many states have not only shrunk the payments to injured workers; they’ve also cut them off after an arbitrary time limit — even if workers haven’t recovered. After John Coffell hurt his back at an Oklahoma tire plant last year, his wages dropped so dramatically that he and his family were evicted from their home.
  • Employers and insurers increasingly control medical decisions, such as whether an injured worker needs surgery. In 37 states, workers can’t pick their own doctor or are restricted to a list provided by their employers.
  • In California, insurers can now reopen old cases and deny medical care based on the opinions of doctors who never see the patient and don’t even have to be licensed in the state. Joel Ramirez, who was paralyzed in a warehouse accident, had his home health aide taken away, leaving him to sit in his own feces for up to eight hours.

The scope of the changes, and the extent to which taxpayers are paying the costs of workplace accidents, have attracted almost no national attention, in part because the federal government stopped monitoring state workers’ comp laws more than a decade ago.

The cuts have gone so deep in some states that judges who hear workers’ comp cases, top defense attorneys for companies and even the father of the modern workers’ comp system say they are inhumane.”

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