Workers' comp fixes win praise

The San Antonio Express-News
Saturday, September 30, 2006

Two years after a very public pullout from Texas ' workers' compensation insurance system, the surgeons at San Antonio Orthopaedic Group say they are willing to give it another try.
"We gave our word to the state and to the governor's office that we would come back if they reformed the system," said Usman "Sani" Mirza, who manages the 24-doctor practice.
The Texas Workers' Compensation Commission had capped doctor fees at a low rate and halved the amount surgical centers were getting for treating an injured worker going through the system.
But in 2005, after employers, workers, insurance companies and doctors all declared the system broken, the Legislature passed a bill that folded most of the commission's responsibilities into the Texas Department of Insurance.
A year after that legislation took effect, the integration and the rules changes are ongoing, but most involved in the system say things are off to a promising start.

The question remains if the injured worker is being served by the reforms. Labor representatives say it is too soon to tell, but that the medical networks and better oversight of the system have promise.
The Center for Justice & Democracy last month released the report "Workers' Compensation — A Cautionary Tale." The study of several states, not including Texas , concludes that the system has been degraded by political forces "into a nightmare for those it was originally meant to help," said author Amy Widman, a policy analyst at the center.
Widman said that over the past few decades, it has become more difficult for injured workers to meet the standard of an injury covered by the insurance and that more hurdles were placed in their way.
"Almost every year in nearly every state, there are these vicious battles in the legislature and the worker almost always ends up losing," Widman said.
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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