A report by the Department of Labor highlights recent changes in the workers' compensation policies of more than 30 states that have made it more difficult for injured workers to file a claim and easier for insurance companies to deny claims. This means that too many employees did not receive medications, surgeries or prosthetics that were vital to their healing process or had to pay for those procedures out-of-pocket. Some injured workers even lost their homes as a result of mountains of medical bills while they were left unable to work because of injury.
This leaves many wondering, how did this happen? According to a recent NPR article, the answer is actually quite simple. Because there is no federal standard in workers' compensation laws, states have been able to create loopholes and pass legislation that have limited benefits for workers and have made it more difficult to get their claims approved.
This report has been well-received by employees as well as all those who fight for workers' rights. But the idea of federal intervention is not welcome to many, particularly employers and insurance companies. They argue that there has never been federal oversight in the workers' compensation system since it was first implemented 100 years ago, and that there is no need to for federal involvement now.
"However, changes and improvements to the workers' comp system should be debated at the state level, where whatever policy balance results, can be more readily fine-tuned as circumstances require," said Bruce Wood, vice president of the American Insurance Association (AIA).
In response to the report, the U.S. Labor Department called for the exploration of standards that would trigger federal oversight when not met.
The report itself stops short of recommending direct administrative or legislative action on the federal level. But Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he was drafting legislation to "address many of the troubling findings."
The right to fair compensation
Employees in every state have a right to fair compensation after they are injured on the job. Laws that make it more difficult to file a claim and even harder for injured workers to get the compensation they need, are detrimental to all who rely on those benefits.
Depending on the severity of the injury, an employee might be out of work for weeks or months. During that time, they should be focused only on their recovery. But without proper workers' compensation benefits, they could be facing insurmountable debt and even foreclosure of their home or other property. Implementing federal oversight for workers' compensation programs could prevent more people in this country from facing poverty after a workplace injury and ensure that they get what they need to heal completely.