States have moved further away from the recommendations of the National Commission on State Workers’ Compensation to better serve injured workers, panelists said Monday at an event at the Department of Labor in Washington to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the commission’s landmark report.
Panelists said there was a period of about two decades after the report was released in which most states made improvements. But the momentum stopped and many states have borne the cost by limiting which damages are compensable, they said.
The immediate effect of the report was for state lawmakers to raise the benefit ceiling to match the state’s average weekly wage and extend the duration of partial disability benefits, said Alan Pierce, an occupational injury lawyer at Pierce, Pierce & Napolitano in Salem, Massachusetts. and former chairman of Workers̵7; Injury Law & Advocacy Group.
The net effect in Massachusetts and most of the country, Pierce said, was that the ability of injured workers to quickly and efficiently receive adequate benefits increased significantly.
But he said that it is often the case that when a benefit goes up, something else is removed.
The reforms were followed by what he called the “deformation of workers.” Employers and insurance companies in the early 1990s faced rising costs, he said, and some changes were needed as insurance companies left Massachusetts or refused to take out insurance coverage.
He said the easy way to fix rising costs is to reduce benefits, which is what lawmakers did. In some states, the temporary total disability period was reduced to three years from five; benefits were reduced to 60% of a worker’s salary from 66.67%; and the occupational injury was required to be the principal cause of action to prove a case where the worker has an underlying condition.
“I wish I had seen a scalpel,” Pierce said. “I think we saw a machete, honestly.”
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