The recently surfaced workers' compensation reform should be rejected for one reason - many workers will get less than they do under current law. The whole point of the reform was to make up for the 60% cut in permanent disability payments to injured workers. Instead the proposal would cut benefits for low wage workers, older workers, workers who can't return to their jobs, and workers who can't earn what they used to make. This is wrong and this bill should be rejected.
Since 2005, injured workers have had their disabling injuries compensated by using the American Medical Association guide of impairments. The guides award "points" for different types of injuries. Under this system permanent disability benefits dropped 60% since 2004. But this proposal would further restrict the ability of injured workers to get a fair and accurate rating of their injuries. Due to the below changes, it is likely that many workers will receive less than under current law.
It eliminates three areas of the AMA guides used to rate impairment for loss of sleep, loss of sexual function and for psychiatric conditions that flow from the injury. A person with a head injury, and who has psychological problems as a result, cannot get any permanent disability due to the psychological problem even though data shows that these injured workers suffer a 49% loss in earnings compared to 14% for the average injured worker.
The proposal eliminates any increase in the rating for a person who has diminished future earnings capacity. Currently, the Schwarzenegger reform included a formula to increase the rating if the person cannot make the same wage. Because this formula was not based on current wage loss data, this formula could be rebutted in court to produce a more accurate measure of lost earning capacity. Both of these are eliminated in this bill.
Finally, the bill severely limits the ability to gather evidence needed to demonstrate impairment and an accurate rating under the AMA guides. The proposal eliminates the right of the injured worker to secure documents, eliminates the right to select an interpreter of their choice, allows the employer to determine which medical issues a doctor can consider when there is a dispute over the severity of an injury and prohibits the use of reports from treating doctors if they were not approved by the employer. The effect of this and other provisions is to reduce the ratings and reduce benefits to injured workers.
Even for workers not impacted by any of the above, many low wage injured workers will receive less than under current law. According to an analysis by CAAA, workers earning up to $14 an hour will get less in permanent disability benefits than under current law. Click on the chart below or here to see 8 charts comparing awards under 2005 PDRS to proposal.