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Workers’ Compensation Opt Out Systems — A View From The Frontline

As part of its ongoing series on workers’ compensation laws, ProPublica has discussed new opt out systems in states like Texas. In October, I wrote about opt out systems and the harm they cause injured workers. Thankfully, Alabama has not adopted such a system.

Earlier this week, a Texas attorney told the story of Billy Shawn Walkup and how the Texas opt out system failed him. If you are concerned with how we treat working families, you should read the post. After suffering his injury, did Walkup get the medical care he needed? No. Under an opt out system, employers write their own rules. So, Walkup’s employer had him sign a waiver – preventing any lawsuit against the company. Next, the company fired Walkup when he did not recover from his injuries quickly. Finally, when the treating doctor determined Walkup’s injury was serious, the company sent him for a “so-called” independent medical examination. The company used the results of that biased examination to cut off needed medical benefits.

Walkup still needs surgery and disability benefits. According to the story, he barely functions as a result of his injury. But now, his employer can shift these costs to other working taxpayers through Social Security and Medicare. That’s not fair to Walkup or the rest of us. Yet, it is exactly how giant employers will re-write the rules in an opt out system. Here are a few unjust new rules you can expect big corporations to write:

  • Rules eliminating specific work-related conditions from coverage.
  • Rules requiring immediate notice, in writing, of specific injuries.
  • Rules allowing waivers that prevent any legal recourse by the worker.
  • Rules allowing someone hand-picked by the company to make medical and disability decisions.
  • Rules providing arbitrary cut-off dates or time limits on medical care.

Alabama’s work comp system is already unfair. Very unfair! Injured workers in Alabama already face a fight in many cases simply to obtain basic benefits. We routinely take cases to trial in order to obtain justice for our injured clients. An opt out system would be even worse. Opt out legislation is a bad idea that will harm injured workers and their families.