Workers' Comp Reform Would Slash Benefits for Injured, Shift Costs From Greedy Insurance Companies to Taxpayers

Protect N.C. Workers launches grassroots voter education campaign

GREENSBORO, N.C., Feb. 17, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A pending bill to reform workers' compensation laws in North Carolina would severely slash benefits for injured workers, leaving them financially devastated and without access to necessary medical treatment. It would also shift the cost of caring for injured workers from employers and insurance companies to taxpayers.

The legislation, which will soon be introduced in the N.C. General Assembly, is being backed by the insurance industry and big businesses. They stand to profit by cutting benefits to workers, according to the new grassroots organization, Protect N.C. Workers (www.ProtectNCWorkers.com).

The insurance companies want to:

  • Cut off workers' compensation after 9 1/2 years even for people who are paralyzed or so severely injured that they will never be able to work again.
  • Force injured workers back to work in low-paying jobs with few benefits and little opportunity for advancement
  • Shift the cost of caring for injured workers to the taxpayers through programs like Social Security Disability, Medicaid and Medicare

"This effort to destroy the workers' compensation system in North Carolina amounts to little more than a bailout for insurance companies and large self-insured businesses looking for ways to raise their profits at the expense of injured workers," said Dan Deuterman, president of The Deuterman Law Group in downtown Greensboro and a supporter of Protect N.C. Workers.

"If they're successful in pushing this legislation through without public input or debate, workers will pay the price," Deuterman said. "It will become harder for people who suffer serious on-the-job injuries to qualify for workers' comp. The system wouldn't adequately provide the lifelong medical care and financial support injured workers need and deserve. Injured and disabled workers will be forced to turn to taxpayer-funded programs like Social Security Disability, Medicare and Medicaid to cover their ongoing medical bills and provide for their families."

Many other states have recently "reformed" their workers' compensation laws, making it more difficult for injured people to qualify for benefits and limiting how long they can collect them, no matter how serious their injuries. This has resulted in almost immediate cost shifting to taxpayers and government agencies and programs.

Following hearings in November, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor asked the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the extent to which state cuts in workers' comp benefits are shifting costs to Social Security Disability and how the government might recoup some of these expenses going forward from insurance companies and self-insured businesses.  

During those hearings, experts testified that in reform states, workers' compensation benefits have eroded over the last decade as states have erected barriers that make it harder to qualify. These factors, along with caps limiting how long people can collect benefits, no matter how severe their injuries, have shifted the burden of caring for disabled workers to taxpayers through unemployment insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance, food stamp programs and other social services that are already over-burdened .

Public opinion research shows the majority of North Carolina voters do not support changing workers' compensation laws or limiting benefits for injured workers. When asked in 2010 by Public Policy Polling if they favored cutting off benefits to disabled workers after 9 1/2 years, 66 percent of registered voters said no. Agreement on that point cut across party lines and political ideology. Liberals (78 percent), moderates (67 percent) and conservatives (60 percent) and Democrats (72 percent), Republicans (62 percent) and Independents (56 percent) all said they didn't support capping benefits at 500 weeks or fewer than 10 years.

Capping benefits would have a devastating impact on people who are hurt on the job and unable to work because of those injuries. Social Security Disability payments are not adequate to cover most recipients' living expenses and medical bills.

"Social Security Disability is not an option for many people," Deuterman said. "And those people who do qualify often find themselves strapped for cash and struggling to make ends meet. What the government pays is much less than what most of my clients earned when they were bringing home their own paychecks before being injured on the job."

The Social Security Administration pays an average monthly disability benefit of $1,067. Younger workers may receive even less because payments are calculated based on how long someone has worked and paid into Social Security.

"We represent a client who was paralyzed in a construction accident when he was in his early 20s," Deuterman said. "He has three young children to support and lifelong medical bills. Because of his injuries, he can never work again. When he was hurt, he hadn't worked long enough or paid in enough to Social Security, so his monthly disability benefits are extremely low. Without workers' compensation, he wouldn't be able to provide food or shelter for his family, much less pay for his lifelong medical care.

"If the insurance companies get their way, clients like this young man will be left to fend for themselves after nine years because their workers' comp will run out," he said. "This legislation is an absolute assault on injured workers."

The Deuterman Law Group has launched a grassroots campaign, Protect N.C. Workers, to educate the public and elected officials about this pending bill. Voters can learn more at the Web site www.protectncworkers.com or by calling toll-free (855) BAD-BILL. Voters are encouraged to contact Gov. Bev Perdue and their state senators and representatives in Raleigh and tell them to vote no on workers' compensation reform in North Carolina. Contact info for elected officials may be found at www.protectncworkers.com

SOURCE Protect N.C. Workers

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