About one year ago, investigative reporters at NPR and ProPublica teamed up to examine in-depth the impact of recent legislative changes to the workers’ compensation system nationwide. Numerous state-level reforms in more than 30 states appeared to be targeting protections that once provided the critical foundation of the programs.
What those investigators did not know was at the same time, federal investigators launched their own inquiry – and released their almost identical findings on the very same day.
Both reports – one from NPR/ProPublica and the other from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – detail changes that have had devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people who suffer serious on-the-job injuries each year. These changes have been almost exclusively driven by large corporations and insurance companies, which have pushed the narrative that costs for these programs are out-of-control – despite direct evidence that workers’ comp payouts have never been lower.
In fact, in South Carolina, employers are paying $1.09 less per $100 in wages for workers’ compensation in 2014 than they were in 1988 – from $3.09 to $2. In North Carolina, companies are paying just 28 cents more than they were in 1988.
So the argument that costs are “out-of-control” simply doesn’t hold water. Neither do stated concerns about workers’ compensation fraud, which has been consistently shown to be a small portion of the overall $60 billion spent on workers’ compensation claims.
While we’re on the subject of fraud, it’s worth noting most of the money lost to fraud is not the result of workers making dubious injury claims, but rather from companies that purposely misclassify workers in order to get cheaper insurance rates and underpay workers.
When workers’ compensation was first founded, Congress mandated 19 minimum federal standards for employee protections. Those included that almost every worker should be covered, that workers could pick their own physicians and that they should receive up to two-thirds of their wages. The mandates also required there be no arbitrary caps and that coverage should extend for as long as the worker is disabled. Additionally, spouses were to receive benefits until they remarried and children until they graduated college.
Today, only seven states follow at least 15 of these recommendations, the journalists found. Four states comply with less than half.
Some call the accelerated pace of legislative reforms on workers’ comp “vicious.”
The OSHA report indicated workers’ comp in many cases pays just 20 percent of a worker’s overall financial costs incurred as a result of workplace illness and injury. The issue is not only workers who are injured, but those still working. As OSHA noted, when companies aren’t forced to pay for the injuries caused by on-the-job hazards, there is little incentive to address those dangers. That means other workers are placed at risk, even when the company knows there is a problem.
The report took note of two recent findings in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, which revealed more than half of those who received hospital treatment for occupational amputations in Massachusetts did not not receive workers’ compensation.
The agency recommended states start undoing the roadblocks that bar injured workers from getting the medical care and wage subsidies they need.
That too is our goal. Our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys recognize that an experienced legal team is essential to securing benefits. We know it can still be an uphill battle, but you have a far better chance than if you try going it alone.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
OSHA Report Echoes ProPublica and NPR’s Workers’ Comp Findings, March 6, 2015, By Michael Grabell, ProPublica
Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job, March 4, 2015, Occupational Safety & Health Administration
More Blog Entries:
Silva v. Lowes – Penalties, Fees and Other Awards in Workers’ Compensation Claims, Feb. 22, 2015, South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog