In Colorado, on average there are more than 2,500 work-related hospitalizations annually, and one worker dies every three to four days due to an occupational injury or illness. To make matters worse, employers are searching for new ways to save money on workers’ compensation claims, since under the law they are required to foot the bill for the insurance to cover their employees. While many employers have falsely claimed that their costs are out of control, in fact, employers are paying the lowest rates for workers’ compensation since the 1970s. And since 2003, legislators in 33 states have passed workers’ compensation laws that actually reduce benefits or make it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for them.
While Colorado still fares better than many other states when it comes to workers’ compensation benefits, there’s been a growing trend by large employers to push for legislation that allows companies to opt out of the traditional state-run workers’ compensation system, in lieu of self-funded employer plans or through other insurance coverage. This movement, which has been backed by the nation’s biggest retail, trucking, health care and food companies, has already scored significant victories in Texas and Oklahoma, with Tennessee and South Carolina also considering such measures. While employers tout the reduced expenses and purported benefits to employees that opt-out plans offer, many believe this push is just another means of reducing or eliminating benefits available to injured workers.
“They told us this was going to be the best thing, that this was going to be better than workers’ comp,” says Mike Pinckard, a truck driver whose employer, Martin-Brower, offered one of these new opt-out plans. However, when Pinckard slipped on a patch of ice while pulling a cart of french fries from his tractor-trailer, which caused a hernia, he saw first-hand that these plans are not necessarily as promised. Mike previously had two hernias on the job that were covered by workers’ compensation and he figured this time would be no different. But the denial letter said his plan only covers two types of hernias, and neither was the type Pinckard suffered.
“I gave my body and soul to the company, and they were doing the same back until last year,” Pinckard said. “It’s just an easy way for the company to get out of it when you get hurt.”
Whether states continue to enact opt-out plans or workers are able to rely on the workers’ compensation systems still in effect in most states, like Colorado, federal legislators have begun to take notice of the problem.
“State workers’ compensation laws are no longer providing adequate levels of support and compensation for workers injured on the job,” a group of ten Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to Thomas Perez, the U.S. Labor Secretary. The letter was prompted by reports that many states have cut benefits to injured workers, created daunting hurdles to get medical care, or made it more difficult for workers with certain injuries and illnesses to even qualify for benefits.
If you or a loved one were injured on the job, contact an expert Colorado workers compensation lawyer who can explain your rights and help get you the medical care and benefits you are entitled to under the law.