With each new year, we see a renewed push to harm injured workers in Alabama. The latest effort — legislation proposed by Senator Arthur Orr. The Senator has renewed his effort from prior years to cut-off medical and disability benefits for severely injured Alabama workers. Why does Senator Orr continue to push for new laws that will harm working men and women in Alabama?
Here are two work comp changes sought by Senator Orr:
- Senator Orr proposes arbitrary time limits on medical benefits that would leave some workers without needed medical care or treatment.
- Senator Orr proposes arbitrary time limits on disability benefits for those workers most in need — the totally disabled.
First, I’ll discuss the proposal to cut-off medical benefits. The proposed legislation arbitrarily limits medical benefits for all injured workers. How would medical benefits be limited? After a two year period without treatment, the worker faces an increased evidentiary burden at trial. After a four year period without treatment, benefits simply cease. They stop. And, the worker can NEVER again obtain medical care through our workers’ compensation system. That’s outrageous.
Proponents are dead wrong when they argue the time limit won’t impact legitimate claims. It does. The proposal imposes deadlines leaving many workers without care. What about the worker who loses an arm in a work-related accident and requires a prosthetic one? When that prosthetic device wears out in a few years, the worker would be barred from any additional care or replacement. Denied! What about the worker who hurts his back in a work-related accident and requires spinal surgery? In spinal surgeries, a piece of hardware can fail several years down the road and cause severe pain or paralysis. The area of fusion can, and often, suffers post-surgical changes causing problems years down the road as well. Again, the injured worker in these scenarios is left without care under the proposed changes to our workers’ compensation system. Denied! What about the worker who suffers a disabling injury which cannot be presently rehabilitated. Yet, five years from now medical science develops valuable treatment. By valuable, I mean treatment that can restore function, increase ability, or allow the patient to return to work. Under Senator Orr’s proposal, the worker would not be eligible for the treatment under our workers’ compensation system. Denied! I could list numerous examples where an injured worker may need medical care several years after an injury. The Senator’s proposal hits the workers who need and deserve care the most.
Senator Orr’s proposal seeks to inject an arbitrary time limit into situations best handled with the doctor chosen by the workers’ compensation carrier. Make no mistake — Senator Orr’s proposal does not save money for our State or our local communities. Instead, it increases the costs of injuries in our communities. Senator Orr’s proposal shifts medical costs from the insurance companies collecting premiums and places those expenses on taxpayers. You can expect Medicare and Medicaid, both funded by working families, to pick-up the increased tab. That’s wrong. It’s wrong for injured workers and their families to be left without proper care. It’s wrong for the insurance companies to profit at the expense of our local communities.
Second, the proposed legislation would arbitrarily terminate benefits for workers suffering a total disability at the age of 65. Yet, many healthy workers remain employed well beyond age 65 in the modern economy. So, why this arbitrary cut-off?
Again, proponents are dead wrong when they argue benefits should terminate at some arbitrary age. I’ll explain why they are wrong. A totally disabled worker does not receive his or her full salary after suffering injury. Rather, total disability benefits are only a percentage of wages (frozen from the time of injury). While totally disabled workers receive this smaller percentage beyond a retirement age, those benefits come at a significant trade-off. Disabled workers never again receive any wage raises like the rest of us. Disabled workers never again receive any bonuses. Disabled workers never again receive other employment benefits, pension contributions, or retirement savings. And, because they are disabled, these employees and their employers no longer contribute to social security retirement benefits. So, at age 65 the worker is left without other typical benefits earned from the ability to work. Unlike the rest of us, they were never able to save or pay into social security for retirement.
In other words, the worker may receive a small percentage of wages beyond the age of retirement. Yet, the same worker also loses much more. Now, Senator Orr proposes leaving totally disabled workers financially dependent upon families and local communities upon reaching the age of 65. Why would we leave our most vulnerable members of society (the elderly and disabled) at risk? Again, that’s a bad idea. It does not benefit the injured worker, his/her affected family or their local community. It benefits only one group — the insurance carriers collecting premiums.
These proposed changes to our workers’ compensation laws affect all of us. It is important we have an open and honest debate. It is important we protect our workers, our disabled and our elderly.
The Blackwell Law Firm represents injured workers across Alabama. From its office in Huntsville, we have prepared and tried cases in counties across the State. If you have questions about a personal injury or work comp issue, let us know. Consultations are always free and confidential.