The U.S. Labor Department, in a new report released this month, calls for an “exploration” of federal oversight and possibly federal minimum benefits for injured workers who seek a remedy through the state workers’ compensation program.
The report asks, “Does the workers’ compensation system fulfill its obligation to injured workers?” In short, the agency says, workers who are hurt on the job are at serious risk of slipping into poverty.
Over the years, there have been numerous changes to workers’ compensation laws across the country. This is not a coincidence, but instead, as ProPublica reported in its excellent series, “The Demolition of Workers’ Comp.,” part of a calculated effort by large businesses to lobby state legislators for lower benefits or tougher access for injured workers. This effort has largely been successful, as evidenced by the fact that workers face more barriers to benefits than ever before. In fact, while employers are paying the lowest rate for workers’ compensation coverage, and insurance companies are turning an 18 percent profit, injured workers are turning to taxpayer-funded programs like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicare to recover lost wages and medical costs they are no longer receiving through their workers’ compensation plans.