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Monday, October 13, 2014

Examining Workers’ Compensation’s ‘Grand Bargain’ and the Upcoming Election

Workers' compensation is a system that has been emasculated by reform to the point of almost to complete extinction. So much change has occurred in the workplace and occupational medicine over the last century that the system has not adapted but instead mutated into an effective program that fails to meet the intention of its crafters. From a summary and remedial system that was providing social insurance to its beneficiaries, it has turned into a system of delay and denials. The world has changed from a localized economy of the past, to now a global one, with employers taking on the role of multi-international corporations. The sophistication of medical protocols and the delivery  cost of medical care in the US has escalated with no curtailment in sight. Employment has not increased for those struggling to remain in the workforce after the Great Recession of the last decade, but wages have not increased.Wages, the lifeblood of the program, have decreased further decreasing premiums. How long the cycle of economic erosion can continue is unknow.

Today's guest post by Rod Rehm of the Nebraska Bar delves into the problem and searches for solutions. Rod is a national leader for the rights of workers and an advocate to protect the benefits of those who suffer industrial accidents and diseases.

Here’s why people should support candidates who will protect workers’ rights. Understand that the ongoing workers’ compensation issues faced by state legislatures are not going away, so state
legislatures are the front lines when it comes to making sure workers’ compensation systems are not diluted even more for injured workers and their loved ones.

Here’s some background. Over 100 years ago, workers’ compensation law was developed across the United States. Nebraska was actually one of the pioneering states, back when we were more progressive. Workers’ compensation was viewed as the “Grand Bargain,” with several presumptions on how the system should work. A January 2014 LexisNexis Legal News Room Workers Compensation Law blog post addresses these presumptions. The blog itself is a respected neutral source on workers’ compensation issues.

While employers and insurance companies are chipping away at the protection workers’ compensation systems offer to injured workers and their loved ones through stalling tactics such as disputing if an injury happened at work or just straight out refusing coverage, those same interests are bending the ears of each state’s politicians to further erode the “Grand Bargain.”

Year in and year out, business and insurance groups cause a large number of bills to be filed that take away benefits from workers or make it more difficult for workers to obtain benefits or take control of their treatment for work injuries.

A recent study’s results, written in the same blog by the same author, reinforces what many injured workers, their loved ones, and their attorneys already know: essentially that workers in New Mexico (and I would argue that this is easily applicable to injured workers in many states) are no longer benefitting from the “Grand Bargain.”

The Grand Bargain Is Out of Equilibrium

“An important part of the ‘grand bargain’ between employers and employees within the workers’ compensation arena is the idea that just as the wear and tear on an employer’s machinery ought to be reflected in the price of the employer’s goods or services, so also should the wear and tear on the employer’s work force. A product’s price should reflect the total cost of production, including the costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses. The Seabury study adds weight to the argument that the grand bargain is out of equilibrium, that workers’ compensation benefits do not adequately replace what a worker loses through his or her injury, that the physical and economic costs associated with work-related injuries and illnesses are not being fully addressed, and that the injured worker is at least partially subsidizing the overall cost of America’s goods and services with his or her lost income.”

The bottom line from this respected author is that workers’ compensation benefits should not be reduced, made more difficult to obtain, etc., when workers who get injured already make less money over a 10-year period of time than workers who aren’t injured.

So let’s elect legislators who will both restore and support the “Grand Bargain” for injured workers and their loved ones.