Workers' comp bill package offers fixes to broken system

Connecticut’s The Norwich Bulletin
Sunday, February 25, 2007

Every working person in Connecticut -- and everyone concerned with workers' rights -- ought to take exception to The Bulletin's Feb. 18 editorial on proposed adjustments to the state's workers' compensation laws. The editorial demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the facts and procedures required before an injured worker receives benefits.
The truth of current state law is frightening: Once an employee is hurt at work, through no fault of his or her own, he or she can lose his job, health insurance for himself and his family and retirement benefits, because an employer is not required to keep an injured employee who can no longer perform his job because of that injury. The benefits to which the editorial so cavalierly refers are in place to provide an injured worker and his or her family a comparable quality of life after a disabling injury.

Since 1913, the workers' compensation system has required employees to give up their right to sue their employers in exchange for a speedy payment of lost wages and medical care. The injured worker is required to prove he made reasonable efforts to find work and cannot due to the injury. It is ludicrous to say commissioners may award these discretionary benefits based upon a "whim."
Discretionary benefits are awarded to an injured worker who suffers a serious, permanent injury and who, as a result, is unable to return to his regular work. This worker could receive partial lost wage benefits for up to 520 weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. The 520-week maximum figure is designed only for the most seriously injured workers, such as paraplegics. That 520-week cap was in effect for many years prior to 1993 reforms, but injured workers rarely qualified.
Huge profit
In recent years, while rights and awards for injured employees eroded, workers' compensation insurance carriers reaped windfall profit. A recent report issued by the Center for Justice & Democracy, citing an actuarial study, made these startling findings:

# During each of the four years after reforms were adopted in 1993, workers' compensation insurers earned after-tax profit of more than 25 percent.
# Between 1993 and 2004, insurers' after-tax profit in Connecticut averaged 14.7 percent, more than double the national average of 6.8 percent.
# From 1993 through 2004, workers' compensation insurance companies earned an after-tax profit of an astonishing $882.53 million.
I can't help but wonder if there's a connection between those statistics and this, because in contrast, the Center for Justice and Democracy and its actuarial study instructively pointed out that in Connecticut, total benefits paid to workers decreased about 39 percent from 1991 to 2004 as a percentage of payroll.
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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