To accomplish their goal of denying workers the benefits they deserve, special interest groups are using their ample profits to lobby lawmakers. Many legislatures have changed state workers’ compensation statutes to make it more difficult for workers to file claims and receive compensation. These changes have made the workers’ compensation process longer and less efficient. One legal scholar told The Center for Justice & Democracy that “injured workers often face denials and delays of apparently legitimate claims, high litigation costs, discrimination, and harassment by employers and coworkers…[M]any reports suggest that recent reforms have substantially increased injured workers’ financial burdens.”
Other reforms have lowered benefits, narrowed eligibility requirements, put medical treatment decisions in the hands of insurance companies, and limited workers’ opportunity to seek legal advice. Lowering benefits may save insurance companies money on payouts, but it won’t save employers any money. Repeated studies have shown that premium costs have almost no correlation to the amount of claims paid out. It also won’t save taxpayers money, as injured workers will be forced to rely on government assistance programs if they’re denied the medical and disability benefits they need.
Narrowing eligibility requirements is also a sneaky way of disqualifying many diseases, conditions, and repetitive stress injuries. For many workers, health conditions and injuries occur over time; limiting their reporting time for these injuries often disqualifies them before they even receive a diagnosis.
Though workers’ compensation was created as a no-fault system, it has since become increasingly adversarial towards employees. Insurers are putting the onus on workers to prove their injuries are work-related. One way they accomplish this is by requiring workers to see insurance company doctors. A study conducted by the New York AFL-CIO found that insurance company doctors often performed short exams, were hostile toward patients, had little oversight, and did not make their reports available to workers before hearings on their claims. One such doctor told the New York Times, “If you did a truly pure report, you’d be out on your ears and the insurers wouldn’t pay for it. You have to give them what they want… That’s the game, baby.” Does that sound like an independent and professional medical opinion?
Finally, there are several proposals to limit attorney fees in workers’ compensation cases; for example, in Pennsylvania, attorney fees must be approved by a judge. The goal is to make it more difficult for injured workers to seek legal advice. Workers’ compensation is complex and difficult for the average worker to understand. If we limit attorney fees for workers, why aren’t we also limiting attorney fees for employers and insurance companies? For every claim filed, a team of insurance specialists is deployed to fight it. It’s only fair that workers have the advantage of legal counsel in a case that could determine their financial future.