“Insult to Injury”, a 4-part joint investigative series by ProPublica and NPR (National Public Radio) takes an in-depth look at the decimation of workers’ comp in the United States. Using statistical and official documentary evidence, it also lays bare through injured workers’ lived experiences and painful personal stories how far state “reforms” have swung the balance in favour of employer and insurer interests. Meanwwhile a report just published by the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) links the current occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation regimes with growing income inequality.
As the authors (Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes) of “Insult to Injury: The Demolition of Workers’ Comp” detail, recent changes “…. often passed under the banner of “reform,” have been pushed by big businesses and insurance companies on the false premise that costs are out of control. In fact, employers are paying the lowest rates for workers, comp insurance since the 1970s. And in 2013, insurers had their most profitable year in over a decade, bringing in a hefty 18 percent return..”
Their analysis of insurance data, state legislation, court and medical records reveals benefit reductions; geographic disparities; arbitrary time limits on benefits regardless of recovery; increasing control by employers and insurers of medical decisions; “perpetual probation” (unlimited review); adverse impacts of “independent medical reviews’. Despite constant complaints about costs, employers are paying the lowest rates for workers’ compensation insurance than at any time in the past 25 years, even as the costs of health care have increased dramatically. As the series starkly shows, workers’ compensation costs have been going down since 1991 while injured workers have been forced into poverty.
The second report in the Insult to Injury series asks “How Much is Your Arm Worth?” – the answer depends on where you live. An interactive medical schedule lets readers compare the Value of Body Part by state and against the national average. For example, the loss of an arm in Alabma = $48,840, in Maryland = $301,600 and national average compensation = $169,878. (Listen to the report on NPR)
- Listen to ProPublica podcast – Reporting on workers’ comp
In “Adding Inequality to Injury: The Cost of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job” the Mar. 2015 OSHA report details how “the failure of many employers to prevent millions of work injuries and illnesses each year, and the failure of the broken workers’ compensation system to ensure that workers do not bear the costs of their injuries and illnesses, are truly adding inequality to injury.” The study looks at the heavy costs work injuries and illnesses impose on workers, families and the economy; how injured workers and taxpayers subsidize high hazard employers; the changing nature of work which increases risk of injury and contributes to income inequality; how costs are downloaded onto social insurance programs and result in taxpayer subsidies of unsafe employers.
These reports follows an Oct. 2014 report by the National Economic and Social Rights Institute (NESRI) on “National Trends and Developments” identifying seven that seven undermine workers’ human rights to health and work with dignity: More workers’ health conditions are excluded from coverage; Increased procedural barriers to workers’ claims; Reduced income support for disabled workers; More employer control over workers’ medical treatment; End to a universal mandate that employers carry workers’ comp insurance; Bans on workers suing insurers for dishonest and misleading practices; Reduced access to injured workers’ attorneys or legal representation.