Over the past few months, I’ve blogged about the recent efforts to overhaul the workers compensation process in Tennessee. Mary Mancini, the Executive Director of Citizen Action, recently wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Jackson (TN) Sun newspaper. The article presents a very strong argument against Governor Haslam’s efforts to revamp the process.
Ms. Mancini argues that the proposed structure is patently unfair as it removes the grievance process from an impartial panel (i.e. the court system in which judges are elected) to a panel for which impartiality can, at least, be questionable. According to Ms. Mancini, “Currently, the system is fair and impartial because elected judges hear the cases. If Haslam’s changes are approved by the legislature, the Governor will get to appoint a workers’ compensation ‘czar’, who will have the power to choose all the judges (and review all decisions). The “czar” and staff will also determine if injuries are work related, determine the allowable treatment for each injury (including the number of therapy visits, the type of surgery, the types of medications, etc.), reduce physician judgment, and ration treatment. In addition to the ‘czar’, the Governor will also appoint all three appeals judges.”
She argues that the decisions will become more political in such an “insular” system, susceptible to special interest and the like. “Instead of fair and impartial, the Governor will trade the well-being of the hardworking people of the state for a favor to the insurance industry.”
According to the article, the proposed changes will also:
- Cut paychecks to injured workers who can eventually return to work by one-third;
- Drastically cut payments to workers who are so injured that they cannot go back to work;
- Remove the economic incentive (under the current workers compensation law) for employers to put injured and recovered workers back to work; and
- Make it easier, and cheaper, for an employer to fire an injured worker and hire a younger or healthier worker.
I would agree with Ms. Mancini that while this legislation may result in better conditions for insurance companies and employers, the worker (who has already been injured on the job) would be forced to relinquish their rights to seek redress in the courts.
The full op-ed piece can be read here.
Chief Credit Officer
Photo Credit: J. Stephen Conn via Flickr