The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) announced this week that worker’s compensation premiums are expected to drop 6.9% in 2016. This is on top of a premium decrease of 6.5% in 2015. Since 2011, when the state legislature and Governor Snyder passed and signed into law legislation that provided employers and their comp carriers with more control over worker’s compensation claims, premiums have dropped by more than 32%. This in turned has saved employers $327 million.
In a prepared statement, Governor Snyder extolled the virtues of this new found money for businesses, stating “these considerable business savings can free up capital and allow companies to hire more workers, increase salaries and expand operations.” But what the governor and these numbers don’t say is the horrific effect the 2011 worker’s compensation law has on our state’s workers.
The Michigan worker’s compensation system was designed to provide workers who were injured on the job with prompt payment of medical expenses and lost wages. In return, workers cannot sue their employer for pain and suffering. For decades this system worked. However, beginning in the 1990s, and again more recently, large corporations and big business rewrote the Worker’s Compensation Act, giving them more control over the care provided to employees while at the same time decreasing the benefits paid.
Big Business’s outright power grab came to a head in 2011, when the Worker’s Compensation Act was amended yet again. This time, the legislation gave employers everything while taking away even more rights from injured workers.
For example, prior to the 2011 amendment, an employer controlled medical care for 10 days after the injury. Now, employers can control which doctor an employee sees and the care an employee requires for 28 days after the injury! As you can expect, employers force their injured workers to treat at employer controlled doctor mills like Concentra, where physician assistants and doctors are pressured to get employees back to work without restrictions and additional follow-up care.
The 2011 amendment also created a way for employers to subtract wages from a claim, whether or not the wages are actually earned. So if an injured worker could have returned to work in the eyes of his employer, the employer can attempt to set-off wage loss based on this “new” job, even if the claimant isn’t working.
In addition, insurance companies and big businesses can utilize vocational rehabilitation “experts” to author a report stating the employee can return to work. These hired guns can be used to terminate benefits and it’s extremely difficult to rebut these experts when fighting for benefits.
The 2011 amendment had many other changes, all hurting injured workers while benefiting employers.
So where does this leave us? It gives politicians a way to brag to the uninformed about how the state is now “more business friendly.” It also fattens the pockets of big business and shareholders, who surely aren’t passing these savings on to their employees.
But what’s most pathetic about the current worker’s compensation “scheme” is the detrimental effect it has had on the hard working men and women of this state. No longer can we expect good medical care as a result of a work injury. No longer can we expect a full recovery so we can return to our jobs healthy. No longer can we expect to be treated fairly. Instead, we can expect a fight for medical care, lost wages and other benefits every step of the way by insurance carriers who have basically written the law.
This is not what this system was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about balance. Instead, it’s a one-way street, with the insurance companies controlling traffic at every intersection.