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Monday, November 22, 2010

Congress Told Workers Compensation is a Deteriorating System

The former chair of the 1972 National Commission on Workers' Compensation told Congress that the present system is deteriorating and a new course of action is warranted. Profession Emeritis John F. Burton, Jr., last Wednesday testified before The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the Congressional Committee on Education and Labor.

Professor Burton told Congress that during the last 20 years he has observed the "...deterioration in adequacy and equity of state workers' compensation programs..." He reported that "the decline in workers' compensation cash benefits in the states during the 1990's is explained by ....changes in workers' compensation provisions and practice than  is explained by the drop in workplace injuries and disease during the decade."

Burton proposed that Congress consider new legislation to prohibit costs shifting from workers' compensation to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). He advised the Subcommittee that cost shifting was continuing because 15 states were permitted to continue "reverse offset" provisions, the Social Security Administration (SSA) was paying benefits to workers who were not totally disabled under workers compensation acts, and a larger number injured workers were not qualifying for workers' compensation benefits.

As Professor points out, the aging workforce further complicates the burden placed upon the nation's Medicare system. With the erosion of the doctrine that workers' compensation takes the worker as it finds him or her, medical treatment for pre-existing conditions will be a growing cost for Medicare and a cost-shift from the workers' compensation system. The NY Times reported that, "Nearly one-fourth of Medicare beneficiaries have five or more chronic conditions. They account for two-thirds of the program’s spending."

A "reaffirmation" of "Federal standards" as enunciated in the 1972 National Commission report were recommended by Burton.  Additionally, he called upon Congress to enact legislation requiring employers and/or their insurance carriers reimburse Social Security for permanent disability cash benefits paid by Social Security for disability flowing from a work related event or disability.