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"Opt out" alternatives are no real alternative to workers' comp

When it comes to injured workers, there is a limit to how much cost cutting can occur in a program and still allow it to perform its essential function that of providing for compensation and medical care for injured workers. At the end of the day, the injury should dictate the amount and level of care necessary, not the employer or some other entity with a financial interest in the system.

In the last few years, many states have reduced benefits and weakened their workers' compensation insurance programs. This is done to reduce costs. Of course, elements of workers' comp have become more expensive, as health care costs have skyrocketed. But why should workers, who have suffered the injury, be the ones who have to make up for this increase in medical costs by reduced benefits?

This punishing of injured workers has become even worse in states like Oklahoma, where employers can "opt out" of the state system, and manage their own program. Unsurprisingly, employers who are motivated to reduce costs in this manner are not interested in providing better benefits to their workers, but less.

This "foxes guarding the henhouse" mentality has been proposed in other states, and some moves have been made in this direction in Wisconsin, which had a proud history of being the first state to offer workers' compensation. These proposals pretend to claim lower costs, but in reality, when an injured worker is not returned to health or provided a viable disability payment, the costs merely transfer to the state or federal programs, like Social Security Disability.

There are no savings, just increased misery for the worker and greater profit for the employer and insurance companies. As Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said, these programs are a "pathway to poverty." His department is studying the issue, as some have argued that federal legislation may be necessary to stop the "race to the bottom" by politicians who are actively working to turn workers' compensation programs into an empty promise for workers.

Source: npr.com, "'Darker Possibility' For Workers When Employers Opt Out of Workers' Comp," Howard Berkes, May 18, 2016

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