As state governments begin tackling their budgets, many face the sobering realization that their financial wells have gone dry. Even areas less affected by the recession are feeling the pinch as too many years of shrinking tax revenue, investment losses and increased demand for services have taken their toll. As a result, many states are looking for ways to cut costs and increase state and business revenue. Some services on the chopping block include education, safety works, and health services. For workers, a particularly troubling trend includes proposals for changes to workers compensation that, while claiming to save governments and businesses money, could potentially cost workers.
Recently, the state of Illinois has made multiple attempts to change workers compensation as part of an effort to reduce a $15 billion budget shortfall. State Representative John Bradley introduced an amendment which decreased pay amount and limited years of eligibility for wage differentials, reduced payment and choices for medical treatment, and restricted workers’ ability to appeal rulings. Though the amendment was voted down, two more bills under consideration, SB 1349 and SB 2155, severely curtail the rights of injured workers in favor of employers by making it easier for insurance companies to deny workers claims. These bills would remove an injured employee's right to choose his/her treating physician, giving the employer control over which doctors treat the employee. Additionally, employers could direct a physician to report on the employee’s injuries without having seen or examined that employee, creating a presumption that a denial of treatment is correct. Even when an employee’s injuries are so severe that an insurance company cannot deny treatment, these bills would cut the benefits paid to that employee. Also, the bills redefine the proof required to establish an injury or illness is work-related by requiring that the accident be the sole cause of an injury. In short, any pre-existing condition, regardless of relevancy or distance in the past, may be used to deny a claim. These changes are, sadly, just some of many negative impacts these bills would have on injured workers, and an attempt to fix budgetary shortfalls by stripping workers of their rights. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan also introduced H.R. 131, proposing an audit of the state employee workers compensation program. While purportedly proposed to expose mismanagement in compensation cases, given the budgetary problems, state workers must ultimately be concerned the audit will result in loss of rights.
Similarly, Oklahoma’s governor Mary Fallin proposed an “overhaul” of Oklahoma’s workers compensation program. Citing a need for increased efficiency and decreased spending, one suggestion was the standardization of injury treatment. Such a change could limit a workers ability to receive appropriate care for individual needs. The workers compensation fund in Washington faces a 95% chance of bankruptcy within five years. As a result, multiple changes of concern to labor rights organizations have been proposed. Proposals include offering a one-time settlement option rather than long-term care for workers, and limiting the definition of the law providing compensation for diseases resulting from a job. In Montana, an introduced bill proposed saving money by cutting workers compensation benefits overall. Recommended cuts included limiting compensation to five years post-injury, regardless of an employee’s ability to work afterwards.
Many states face tough choices in balancing the demand for services with maintaining a budget. Workers, however, should be aware of how these shortfalls are impacting their rights in the event of an on-the-job injury. If you are concerned with how your workers compensation benefits may be affected, contact your state representative or a Chicago workers compensation lawyer to discuss your options.
About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyer that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.