In a recent article published by the NPR News Investigations titled “Injured Workers Suffer As ‘Reforms’ Limit Workers’ Compensation Benefits” the NPR details changes to workers compensation benefits in many states and details the issues faced by some workers in North Dakota, Oklahoma and California. See: http://www.npr.org/2015/03/04/390441655/injured-workers-suffer-as-reforms-limit-workers-compensation-benefits
Because workers’ compensation is not federally regulated, each state has developed its own system and laws.
According to research and investigation done by NPR and ProPublica, employers are paying the lowest rates for workers’ compensation insurance seen since the 1970s and in 2013 insurers had their most profitable year in more than 10 years with a 18% return. They have been able to accomplish this by allowing taxpayers to carry the burden of bills for injuries in the workplace through Social Security Disability, Medicare and Medicaid for wages and medical costs not covered by workers’ compensation insurance.
ProPublica found that 33 states have passed laws to reduce benefits or make it more difficult for workers with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for benefits and that what state you are injured in makes a difference in what your claim is worth. In 37 states, an injured worker is not allowed to pick his/her own physician or must pick from a restricted list that is provided by the employer. This is the case in Georgia where an employer is required to post a panel of physicians from which the injured worker selects a physician.
While not all changes are reducing or taking benefits away from the injured worker, over the last several years Georgia has made changes to workers’ compensation laws including:
2003 – restriction of eligibility for “catastrophic” injury benefits while raising the maximum weekly compensation rate by $25.00
2004 – closed a special fund that provided additional benefits to workers with disabilities who are rendered more severely disabled by a new workplace injury
2006 – increased the cap on death benefits to a spouse with no dependents from $125,000 to $150,000
2007 – raised the maximum compensation checks from $450 to $500 a week and increased the use of independent medical examiners (outside physicians) to include psychological exams
2013 – terminated medical care after 400 weeks (about 8 years) for all but catastrophic injuries and required the injured workers to attempt light duty job for at least 1 full work day or 8 hours (whichever is greater) or face cutoff of benefits while raising the maximum compensation checks from $500 to $525 a week per week
Changes to the laws can be confusing and overwhelming. At the Law Offices of Laura Lanzisera, we stay informed of changes to the system and laws to make sure that we are getting the best possible results for our clients.