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Workers’ Compensation Opt Out Systems — A Return To The Jungle (UPDATED)

In 2015, I wrote a post about the lobbyist push to enact “opt out” systems for workers’ compensation benefits. You can read more about workers’ compensation opt out systems in that post here.

Opt out systems are terrible for injured workers. In my prior post I explained several ways in which large employers would opt out of workers’ compensation benefits and write their own plans to exclude valid work-related injuries. Opt out systems allow large companies to treat workers as expendable commodities. Our families and neighbors deserve better.

The State of Texas has long had an opt out work comp system. I could write, at length, about unjust treatment of injured workers under that system. That’s where the lobbyist push began and spread to other states. Corporate lobbyists began to push similar proposals in other state legislatures. This led to the State of Oklahoma also enacting an opt out system. While not yet proposed in Alabama, similar proposals were attempted in nearby states, including Tennessee.

I’ve represented injured Alabama workers for many years. Yearly, we have to fight proposals that seek to limit medical treatment or disability benefits. The workers’ compensation system in Alabama is already unfair to injured workers. We certainly do NOT need an opt out system that would leave many injured workers totally unable to obtain any treatment or benefits.

After Oklahoma joined Texas in adopting an opt out system, work comp carriers began touting the “cost savings.” Cost savings? While the responsible carriers may have seen their costs decrease, the costs to families, communities and governments all increased. These proposals do not save costs. They shift costs to communities and taxpayers. In the process, they also increase costs because injured workers are no longer able to obtain timely treatment and rehabilitation in order to return to work.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court just struck down that State’s new opt out system as unconstitutional. This is a positive development that will hopefully stop the spread of this unfair and unjust idea.