Workers’ Comp and the Obesity problem

I was reading an article this morning on how the Obesity problem in America “weighs” on the Workers’ Comp system. It is not surprising that obese clients will take longer to heal after a work related injury, and there may be an increase in the cost to treat this worker in the workers’ comp system as a result.

What was surprising to me is how anti-worker the author is. They seem to imply that the problem lies entirely with the overweight workers, and that the employer should be shielded from liability, which is distressing to me. The Workers’ Comp system was created to provide an efficient, no-fault system for workers’ to be compensated for their work-related injuries, receive the medical care they require, and get back to work as soon as possible.

The author uses an extreme example (a 300 pound worker who required 7 months to recover from a “sprained” ankle) to illustrate her point. The author says nothing of how severe the ankle injury was, or what type of work the injured worker was required to perform. The studies cited by the author were no doubt commissioned by pro-business, pro-insurance groups to illustrate their points.

This is concerning to me at a time when obesity is such a prevailing problem in America. Businesses who employ workers, and presumably provide them with health insurance benefits, are in the best position to address this issue through wellness programs, incentives to lose weight and educational programs.

In addition, the statistics cited surprise me given the fact that so many of my clients are injured performing difficult, manually demanding jobs. Our clients are, for the most part, blue-collar workers who work extremely hard and deserve to be taken care of by their employers and/or the insurance company when they are injured. It goes without saying that many of these workers get a lot more exercise, and are in much better condition as a result of their work than your typical office worker who sits at a desk all day.

Before we start blaming obese workers (who are few and far between) for the increasing cost of workers comp insurance (another statistic that could be debated), may the insurance companies and employers should take a look in the mirror to determine whether they are helping or contributing to the problem.

Exposed – How Art Pope’s Money could influence Workers’ Comp Benefits

Next year is going to be an important year for politics in North Carolina and across the country.  Workers’ Comp laws throughout the nation, including in North Carolina, are under attack.  In order to preserve a system that is fair to both workers and employers alike, we must support candidates for our legislature that care more about our state than receiving funding from people like Art Pope.

Visit www.artpopeexposed.com for more information.

What can happen if insurance companies have their way…

Here is a brief example of what will happen in North Carolina if insurance companies are successful in continuing to “reform” Workers’ Compensation laws in North Carolina.

New Workers’ Compensation Bill signed into law in North Carolina

Earlier this week, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue signed a new Workers’ Compensation bill into law that will make several major changes to the current law.  This bill, entitled the “Protecting and Putting North Carolina Back to Work Act” contains number of changes to the existing Workers’ Compensation law that injured workers must be aware of.  Many of the new provisions affect pending claims, while some will impact future claims.

Here is a quick summary of some of the major changes to current system:

  1. Restricts the ability of an injured worker to select their own physician by requiring an employee to apply to the Industrial Commission for a change in treating physician. For the Commission to grant such a request, the employee must show that the requested change of treatment or health care provider is reasonably necessary to effect a cure, provide relief, or lessen the period of disability.  If the employee does not seek permission first, the Commission may disregard or give lesser weight to the opinion of any health care provider not otherwise authorized by the employer or Commission to evaluate, diagnose or treat the employee before the employee file the request for a change.
  2. Provides a procedure by which employers may request medical records directly from an employee’s treating health care provider, so long as they give the employee contemporaneous written notice of any request for medical records and prior notice of any request to talk to the employee’s doctors.
  3. Places a 500 week limit, subject to some exceptions, on the duration of compensation that is paid for total disabilities.
  4. Increases the maximum duration of compensation for partial disability from 300 weeks to 500 weeks.
  5. Allows the employer to request a termination of benefits for as long as an employee refuses “suitable employment” without justification.

These are just a few of the changes to the existing law.  This bill became the law in North Carolina as soon as Governor Perdue signed it into law, although some sections of the legislation apply to claims pending on or after the effective date, and some apply only to claims arising on or after the effective date.

Exactly how this legislation will affect injured workers, or how it will be interpreted by the courts remains to be seen.

Why Workers Comp reform is bad for NC

Here is a great op-ed article that details why the Workers’ Comp Reform bill proposed by Rep. Dale Folwell is bad for everyone in North Carolina.

In House Bill 709 and Senate Bill 544, the North Carolina Legislature is attempting to strip injured workers of numerous protections currently in place, restrict how long they can receive benefits for, open up their doctors to be contacted directly by the insurance companies, and make it more difficult for them to prove their case at hearings.

As Mr. Fryar suggests in this op-ed article, we are all just one “slip, fall or heavy lift away from joining the ranks of the injured.”  Don’t let the insurance company take over our state – call your state representatives today and ask them to vote no on HB 709 and Senate Bill 544.

 

Legislative Update: Status of Workers’ Compensation in North Carolina

Today I am attending a Workers’ Compensation Roundtable at the North Carolina Advocates of Justice in Raleigh, NC.  After lunch, Gina Cammarano provided us with a legislative update regarding the status of Workers’ Compensation reform at the General Assembly.

Although a bill has not yet been filed, it is clear that the insurance companies have the ears of our state representatives.  We initially thought that the bill would include a cap for lifetime benefits at 500 weeks, even in cases where an injured worker is completely and totally disabled.  We also thought that the bill would include language that gutted the statute with regards to the current requirement that an injured worker must have “substantially similar” employment to go back to work.

However, now we are aware that the effects of the bill may be far worse than originally expected…  Here are some of the things that we learned today.

  1. The proposed legislation will give the insurance companies complete control over your medical care
  2. You will be able to choose your doctor, but only from a list of doctors pre-approved by the insurance company
  3. In cases where you have the burden of proof at a hearing, you will be unable to introduce expert witness testimony from an independent doctor (this doesn’t seem to pass constitutional muster to me, but sometimes the state representative’s don’t understand that)
  4. You will have to make an election of benefits
  5. The insurance company representatives will be able to talk to your doctor without your presence or knowledge!!

This is all a ploy to transfer the burden of paying expenses for injured workers from the insurance companies that are contractually liable to pay these expenses to the taxpayers of the State of North Carolina.

Bottom Line? This bill is bad for injured workers, it is bad for doctors, it is bad for business, and it is bad for North Carolina and it’s taxpayers.  Don’t let the insurance companies reap a windfall at the expense of the taxpayers.  Contact your representative and tell them to stand up for North Carolinians and vote NO on Workers’ Compensation reform.

NC Workers Comp Reform News – www.ProtectNCworkers.com goes live February 17th

For those of you that have been following the news in the NC Workers Comp Reform world recently – you know that injured workers throughout North Carolina are in a fight for their lives… literally.

The insurance companies and big business lobbies want to limit the benefits paid to injured NC workers to 9 and a half years – even if that worker is totally and completely disabled – which means that they can never go back to work.  This is a fiscally irresponsible bill that will do nothing but shift the cost to care for these injured workers from the insurance companies to the taxpayers of our great state.

I have been and will continue to be posting quite regularly on this NC Workers Comp reform on this website, but there is a new website that goes live tomorrow – www.protectNCworkers.com, that will have lots of news and information about the upcoming legislation.

Also, if you have not already done so, it is important that you contact your legislator and tell them to vote NO on this legislation and stick up for the rights of all North Carolinians!

Of course, if you need more information on this bill, please feel free to contact my office at (919) 460-5422.

Workers Compensation Section Meeting at the NCAJ

This afternoon I attended the Workers’ Compensation Section Meeting at the Raleigh office of the North Carolina Advocates of Justice (NCAJ) – an organization of which I am a proud member.  Here is a sampling of some of the things that were discussed:

  • NCAJ president Phil Baddour and CEO Dick Taylor gave an update on the state of Workers’ Compensation Reform at the statehouse.  The sense is that the legislature is going to take up Medical Malpractice reform first, and a Workers’ Compensation reform bill will follow within the next several weeks.
  • Todd Barlow, a member of the NCAJ Political Affairs Counsel gave some background into how the reform bill will be introduced – via what committees, and how the legislation is likely to proceed.
  • Dan Deuterman of the Deuterman Law Group laid out a strategy for how we will be educating the public on Workers’ Compensation Reform and how it will impact workers across the state… not in a good way.
  • Mike Okun from Patterson & Harkavy discussed the Union’s perspective on all of this talk about Workers Compensation reform and how we, as Comp lawyers, can keep the Union support.

Following the Section Meeting was an open house for members of the legislature.

Here are some things that the public must understand about what the legislature is trying to do to the Workers Compensation system in North Carolina:

  1. The legislature wants to move quickly and without much fanfare to destroy the laws that are currently in place to protect injured workers;
  2. The proposed legislation would limit compensation for injured workers to 9.5 years – less than a decade – even for workers that are young and completely disabled;
  3. This bill is bad for both workers and taxpayers, because after their compensation runs out, the taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill that rightfully belongs to the insurance company;
  4. This bill is nothing but another insurance company bailout. The only winners are big business and insurance companies – small businesses and workers will suffer.

Call your representative TODAY and tell them to vote NO on cutting benefits to workers.

Labor Legislative Conference held last week in Raleigh

Last week union workers throughout the state of North Carolina convened for the 2011 Labor Legislative Conference in Raleigh. At that meeting, the unions called for a “Working People’s Agenda” that included creating more jobs and protecting workers throughout the state. For more on the program, read this article entitled “Workers Unite to Promote a Working People’s Agenda”.

Want to guess what one of the hot topics was? If you guessed Workers’ Compensation benefits – you guessed right. The insurance and business lobbies want legislators to cut benefits to injured workers and eliminate the requirement that workers go back to “suitable employment” after they are injured. In other words, a teacher could be forced to take a job as a Wal-Mart greeter if it was available to them, regardless of the fact that this is a completely different position than what they are qualified to do.

Workers’ Compensation benefits are extremely important to workers who are injured at work or who become sick because of their working conditions.  The employer or the insurance company that is hired by the employer is responsible for paying out timely and quick benefits to these workers in exchange for the worker giving up the right to sue the employer.  (Except for in very, very limited exceptions – see the Woodson Case)

Not only is the Comp system in North Carolina important for the lives of injured workers, but it is also important for the taxpayers.  If the insurance companies are able to convince the legislators to cut benefits to workers – not only will that take money out of the North Carolina economy, but it will also cost the taxpayers billions of dollars as these workers get shifted onto public assistance such as medicare and food stamps.

Right now we have an efficient and fair workers comp system in North Carolina – adequate benefits are given to workers at a modest cost to employers.  For those that would claim that the Comp system is hurting the business climate in North Carolina, consider that in 2010, Site magazine rated North Carolina’s business climate as the very best in the nation.

In my humble opinion, if it ain’t broke – there is no need to fix it.  We don’t need Workers’ Compensation Reform in North Carolina.  Tell the legislators to ignore the call of insurance company lobbyists and focus on what IS important – bringing more jobs to North Carolina.

Fighting Workers’ Comp reform in North Carolina

You are going to be seeing a lot of posts from me in the coming weeks and months with updates on what is going on in the Statehouse in Raleigh.  The People of North Carolina are in for a fight – and this time it doesn’t only affect injured workers who are depending on their weekly Workers’ Comp benefit checks.  This time it affects us all – the taxpayers.

The insurance companies want to cap the benefits they pay out for individuals that are totally and completely disabled to 500 weeks.  So, you may ask, what happens after those 500 weeks are gone?  The taxpayers will foot the bill, plain and simple.

In addition, the insurance lobby is putting pressure on your representatives to change the existing law to force injured workers to take any type of job they can find if they can not return to what is currently called “suitable employment.”

If these changes are allowed to go through, not only could workers be forced to take jobs that pay them less wages, provide fewer benefits and give them little room to advance (consider a school teacher forced to work as a Wal-Mart greeter), but the resulting loss of income from that job change would be capped at 500 weeks and then the benefits would stop – even if the injured and disabled worker was still physically unable to return to the work they were doing before they were injured.

Check out these blog posts (here and here) for more information.  I have previously blogged about this here.

Also, make sure you contact your state representative and tell them to stand up to the insurance lobby and reject the proposed reforms.

Here is another press release on this issue.