Analysis finds Texas and Oklahoma opt outs hurt workers
Reporters at ProPublica and NPR have analyzed nearly 120 employer-designed workers’ comp plans from Oklahoma and Texas companies that have “opted out” of the state workers’ comp system. Their report shows that nearly all employer-designed policies have more restrictions and fewer benefits than state programs, with little to no independent oversight. Many companies that have opted out have designed workers’ comp plans that purposely exclude conditions for which their workers are most at risk. Most company-designed plans cut off benefits after only two years, and pay no permanent disability compensation. Moreover, injured and ill workers are almost entirely at the mercy of the company, which controls which doctors workers are sent to, how often they’re examined, and even the legal process for appeals and settlements. A coalition of large corporations is pushing to get opt-out laws passed in as many as a dozen more states within the next 10 years, a plan that would catastrophic curtail workers’ rights and protections.
Workers’ comp tragically shuts out people with occupational diseases
The Center for Public Integrity has released an important new investigative report on how the denial of workers’ comp to people with occupational diseases shifts costs onto workers and their families. While occupational illnesses kill nine times more workers than on-the-job injuries, claims for job-related sickness are far more likely to be denied, and the things are only getting worse. Over the past 25 years, states have made it harder than ever for people to get workers’ comp for illnesses. At least 11 states have limits that prevent workers from filing a claim more than a few years after their last occupational exposure to toxic chemicals. In contrast, many of the most serious and common occupational diseases have 10-30 year latency periods, meaning that affected workers won’t see their first symptoms until years after the deadline has passed to file for workers’ comp. These restrictions, combined with an adversarial system in workers must prove, against an ever-higher burden of proof, that their illness was caused by their work, places an unreasonable burden on ill workers and fails to deliver adequate or timely health care coverage and income support.
Attack on workers’ comp shifts costs of injuries from employers and insurers to the public
A new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that cuts to workers’ comp programs account for over one-fifth of the sharp rise in the proportion of workers who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) awards. As states have made it harder for workers to get workers’ comp, an increasing number of injured and ill workers are turning to SSDI to meet their needs. This essentially shifts costs off of employers and private insurance companies onto federal government programs funded by taxpayers. The consequences of this cost shifting are substantial: current projections indicate that before the end of 2016, the SSDI trust fund will be too depleted to pay full benefits, triggering automatic benefit reductions for people who rely on the program.
9/11 first responders wait in limbo
Despite months of rallies and visits to government officials to ensure the extension of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Congress has let the bill expire. The health program, known as the “James Zadroga Act”, has provided essential medical coverage for thousands of First Responders who sustained injuries and illnesses during rescue efforts on 9/11. After being exposed to toxins at Ground Zero, many workers are now being diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses with long latency periods. While most observers expect the bill to be renewed during the next legislative session, the lapse has caused anxiety for those who are fighting tough, ongoing battles with disease and rely on the health program for treatment.