States are cutting workers’ compensation benefits to save money, according to a report by ProPublica and National Public Radio. These changes are forcing injured workers to turn to less generous, taxpayer-funded welfare programs, while employers pay the lowest rates for workers’ comp insurance since the 1970s; in 2013, insurance companies enjoyed their most profitable year in a decade. In a separate report also released in February, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration linked the cutbacks in workers’ compensation benefits over the last decade to increasing income inequality in the US. “Although Vermont’s worker compensation benefits are better than in many other states, a work injury can strike you and your family hard no matter where you live,” says attorney Ron Fox. “As these reports show, we have to be very careful about limiting benefits that help vulnerable workers stay afloat.” In his volunteer role as legislative liaison for the non-profit Vermont Association for Justice (VTAJ), Attorney Fox monitors developments at the Vermont State House related to workers’ compensation, and helps VTAJ—and BFS–respond to threats to worker compensation benefits. “The century-old workers’ compensation system is a critical safety net and we must be alert to any action towards dismantling it in Vermont,” he says.
This workers’ compensation case study clearly shows that the insurance company has to pay for every natural consequence of your work injury.
A former client of ours was in a difficult situation. In 2008, we helped her win a workers’ compensation claim for a back injury. Among other things, she was entitled to payment for any ongoing medical treatment related to her injury. By 2013 she had become dependent on the pain medication her doctors prescribed for her injury. She knew that she needed to wean herself off the narcotics as well as find a new way to manage her ongoing pain. Two barriers stood in her way—a reluctance to make her dependency public and how to pay for her new treatment plan.