Editor’s Note: The following article appeared as a Community Voices article in the Oct. 14, 2016, Opinion section of The Bakersfield Californian. To read the article in print format, click here. To see the article online, click here.
Taxpayers: Bad workers’ comp laws in California are costing you
As a business owner, I have a personal investment in the health and welfare of my employees. Not only do I want a safe working environment but if, God forbid, they get injured, I want them to be taken care of so that they can return to work as soon as they recover. That is what I expect for the insurance premium dollars I have spent.
A workers’ compensation system that provides adequate support to injured workers is a key component to the social safety net that we as a society have all agreed is necessary. It provides a fair and balanced approach to the costs of doing business and the unfortunate inevitability of on-the-job injuries.
Continuing erosion of these safety net benefits result in harmful and widespread economic consequences to the injured worker. What often goes unnoticed and unmentioned is the fact that we all will ultimately bear the brunt of this denial of benefits as a result of the cost shifting that occurs.
In fact, it’s costing you, my fellow taxpayers, right now.
California’s private workers’ compensation insurance carriers so effectively lobbied California’s legislators that they have eroded the system to the extent that the costs for the long-term care and disability for injured workers in the state often falls on taxpayers through the Medicare, Medi-Cal and Social Security system. This is an undue burden to the taxpayers and a shirking of the insurance company’s responsibilities. California’s workers’ compensation insurers continue to collect premiums from California’s employers all to increase their profits while California’s injured workers ultimately have to rely on taxpayer-funded systems.
A recent U.S. Department of Labor report (“Does the workers’ compensation system fulfill its obligations to injured workers?” – Oct. 5, 2016) outlines the troubling condition faced by injured workers because state-sponsored workers’ compensation programs throughout the nation are failing to provide even rudimentary benefits.
“Other social benefit systems … have expanded our social safety net, while the workers’ compensation safety net has been shrinking. There is growing evidence that costs of workplace-related disability are being transferred to other benefit programs, placing additional strains on these programs at a time when they are already under considerable stress.”
For example, here in California, benefits paid to injured workers to replace lost wages during the time off needed to recover from an injury have been capped at 104 weeks. The consequence of this is that those most seriously injured who do not recover in that amount of time face severe financial pressures. With no other similar benefit available, the burden to survive falls on the disabled worker, and ultimately the taxpayers.
The labor department report calls for an increase in the federal role of oversight including the appointment of a new national commission and establishment of minimum standards.
Business owners and employers should all be contacting their legislative representatives and demanding an end to this continuing degradation of rights and benefits to our hard-working labor force.
I am not a proponent of federal intervention into our states workers’ compensation system; however, this report should serve as a wake-up call to all of us. If we do not take care of our injured workers, then the threat of big government casting its shadow across our Golden State looms large in our foreseeable future.
— James A. Yoro is a certified workers’ compensation attorney, a senior partner at the Bakersfield-based injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, and has nearly 40 years of experience in the practice.
*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.