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Demolition of Workers Comp

The Demolition of Workers Comp is a NPR series that everyone interested in workers compensation should read.

Over the past decade, state after state has been dismantling America's workers' comp system with disastrous consequences for many of the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer serious injuries at work each year, a ProPublica and NPR investigation has found.

The cutbacks have been so drastic in some places they virtually guarantee injured workers will plummet into poverty. Workers often battle insurance companies for years to get the necessary surgeries, prescriptions and benefits.

The changes, often passed under the banner of "reform," have been pushed by a relatively few businesses and insurance companies on the false premise that costs are out of control.  In Wisconsin, Assembly Bill 21 in the Budget Bill will negatively impact Wisconsin's worker's compensation system, which is generally regarded as the best in the nation.  McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin represents workers with serious neck and back injuries; most of our clients have surgery and/or permanent restrictions preventing a return to work.

Employers are paying the lowest rates for workers' comp insurance since the 1970s. In 2013, workers' compensation insurers had their most profitable year in over a decade. All the while, employers have found someone else to foot the bill for workplace accidents: American taxpayers, who shell out tens of billions of dollars a year through Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid for lost wages and medical costs not covered by workers' comp.

Workers' comp was born in the early 1900s as a "grand bargain" forged by business and labor as awareness grew about the grisly workplace accidents that came with industrialization.  "As the work is done for the employer, and therefore ultimately for the public," President Theodore Roosevelt said in 1907, "it is a bitter injustice that it should be the wage-worker himself and his wife and children who bear the whole penalty."

In return for a measure of a security, workers gave up their right to sue their employers -- even in cases of gross negligence -- protecting businesses from lawsuits. By 1920, nearly every state had enacted workers' comp laws.

The systems all aimed to answer the same questions: Is an injury work-related? What's the appropriate medical care? How much compensation should injured workers receive and for how long? Each decision affected employers' costs as well as workers' solvency and well-being.  Generally, work-related causation is liberally found, but the benefits available are only a small fraction of the injured worker's actual monetary loss - another aspect of the grand bargain.  Contact your Wisconsin state rep or senator, don't let them slip by a demolition of workers comp in Wisconsin.

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