Thursday, October 15, 2015

Workers' Comp, No Longer the Safety Net I Thought It Was

If you haven't caught the NPR stories over the past few days about the recent corruption of the workers' compensation system, make sure you've taken your blood pressure medication. Today's story is only part of the many stories that NPR and ProPublica have done, based on their investigative reporting. (NPR's stories are compiled here, some of ProPublica's are here, here, and here.)

Where is this taking place? Mostly in Texas, of course, where one lawyer has made it his mission in life to overhaul a system that probably had a few problems. His solution was to turn the "free market" on it. And it's working great for the employers, not so great for the employees. Big shock.

What I didn't know is that it's not mandatory for companies to participate in the regular workers' comp system. They have to provide some coverage, but until recently, it was generally thought best to use the regular system because it prevents employees from suing their employers.

This jerk lawyer in Texas, Bill Minick, figured out that people can't really sue very often, or at least not successfully, since they don't have the money to do that. So employers can cut their costs in half without much risk to their bottom lines.

Examples given in today's and other stories on NPR:

  • A painter fell from a radio tower and died. His widow and very young child only got a $250,000 death benefit from his employer's plan, when it would have been $1 million under the usual plan. She tried to sue over the lack of safety infrastructure provided, but the company declared bankruptcy.
  • A health aide felt a pop in her back when helping a large patient whose wheelchair had broken. She thought it would get better with some rest, but later that night she was in agonizing pain. However, because she didn't report the injury by the end of her shift, she isn't eligible for the company's compensation plan. The regular system gives workers up to 30 days to file.
  • Examples of absurdities in the plans include senior living companies that don't cover bacterial infections, or Costco's policy that pays only up to $600 for external hearing aids (when the cheapest model for sale at Costco costs $900).
  • U.S. Foods, the nation's second-largest food distributor after Sysco, doesn't cover sickness or disease "regardless of how contracted," exempting them from covering work-related conditions such as heatstroke, chemical exposures or cancer.
  • Some plans only provide coverage for two years. One man in the NPR story found himself in that boat after a back injury that leaves him feeling as though someone is pressing into his back with cleats. He's (and his health insurance, assuming he has some) are on the hook for the costs.
This is where I say something like, What is wrong with this country, or at least these states? And then I start swearing. Which means it's time to stop writing.

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