New Bill Seeks to Strip Benefits for Michigan Workers
Last week, Michigan Republicans introduced a bill in the Michigan Legislature that, if passed, will severely limit benefits payable to injured workers and their families under the state's workers' compensation law. House Bill No. 5002 contains a series of amendments to the state's existing workers' compensation law, which covers lost wages, medical care and vocational rehabilitation to an employee who is injured on the job. Tens of thousands of Michigan employees are injured every year and would be negatively affected by these changes.
Workers' compensation is designed to provide wage loss benefits for employees to sustain themselves when they become unable to work. It also has provisions to rehabilitate injured workers and help them get re-established in a new vocation if permanently unable to perform their past jobs.
The proposed legislation would drastically impair an employee's ability to obtain any lost wage benefits, even if they are unable to work or unable to find alternate work, by imposing a complex and confusing definition of disability, among other restrictive changes.
The new bill has been referred to the House Commerce Committee and is scheduled for a hearing on September 27, 2011 at 10:30 a.m. in room 519 of the State House Office Building in Lansing, MI. Anyone concerned about the impact of this bill on their workers' compensation benefits is encouraged to contact their representative and express their disapproval.
The bill contains a number of alarming provisions. Some of the harshest and most radical provisions are as follows:
• REDUCE OR ELIMINATE WEEKLY INCOME BENEFITS BY WHAT A WORKER IS "CAPABLE OF EARNING", EVEN THOUGH HE/SHE IS NOT ABLE TO EARN WAGES OR FIND WORK
• ALLOW AN EMPLOYER TO DENY BENEFITS IF AN INJURED WORKER IS FIRED
• MAKE IT HARDER TO GET BENEFITS FOR ARTHRITIC CONDITIONS AND MENTAL DISABILITIES
• ALLOW THE EMPLOYER TO CHOOSE YOUR DOCTORS FOR THE FIRST 90 DAYS OF TREATMENT
• MAKE AN INJURED WORKER OR THEIR MEDICAL PROVIDERS PAY ATTORNEY FEES ON WRONGFULLY DENIED MEDICAL BILLS, RATHER THAN THE INSURANCE COMPANY OR EMPLOYER
• REDUCE WEEKLY BENEFITS BY PENSION AMOUNTS EVEN WHEN THE PENSION IS NOT BEING PAID
A New Definition of disability - The definition of disability dictates when an employee will become eligible for benefits. Changing this definition will limit the number of employees who may receive benefits. Under the new definition, employees would no longer be eligible to receive full benefits if they are able to perform any other job suitable to their qualifications and training. As a result, if you are injured, even though you may be unable to perform your existing job, you may still be ineligible to receive any wage loss benefits.
Introduction of partial disability concept -Individuals are deemed partially disabled if they are able to earn a wage at any pay level that is less than what they were able to earn before, in a job that is within their qualifications and training.
Pathological change that is medically distinguishable - The new legislation will elevate the standard of proof required to show that an injury has occurred. Injuries will only be compensable if they are the sorts of injuries that would be expected to arise out of a particular area of work. If the employee had any pre-existing condition, the new injury must produce a pathological change that is medically distinguishable from the prior condition, even if the pre-existing condition was unknown and asymptomatic before the injury.
Mental disability limitations - The amended law would limit an employee's ability to recover for mental disabilities. If the disability arises from something other than a physical injury, an employee could only recover if it caused by a stress that is greater than what other employees experience. This modification would effectively eliminate mental health benefits for employees whose reaction to work stresses is different from that of their co-workers, even though everyone reacts differently to the same stressors.
Adjustment to wage earning capacity-The new bill will stagger out how much continual benefits may be paid to an employee who obtains and subsequently loses another job through no fault of their own.
- The new provisions would presume the employee's wage earning capacity had not changed if the new job was lost within 100 weeks of getting it. However, no benefits are payable if an employee loses a job through their own "fault".
- If the new job is lost between 100 and 250 weeks of starting, then a magistrate will have to make a determination whether the employee had established a new wage earning capacity. This process will take years to resolve.
- If the employee held the new job for over 250 weeks, then it will be presumed that they have established a new post-injury wage earning capacity and their benefits will rarely be payable.
Denial of the right to Medical Care - Currently an injured worker, if offered it, must obtain medical treatment from a company chosen doctor during the first 10 days of starting medical care after an injury. The new law would limit an employee's ability to choose their medical care provider for a full 90 days following their injury. This represents a very serious intrusion into the physician-patient relationship and represents government sanctioned control of medical decision making. Most injured workers will never see their own doctors and certainly be given inferior care as insurance carriers drive bargains with the worst doctors who have fewer patients because they are not as highly skilled or even incompetent. It was also change the law that allows a Magistrate to award attorney fees on medical expenses to the injured worker to be paid by the employer or insurance company. Now the doctor or injured worker, or both, would have to pay the fees. Who can afford that? What doctor will wait years for payment and then pay an attorney fee to get a bill paid? Very few indeed, if any.
Pension Benefits treated as income even when not being received -This provision will allow a reduction of wage loss benefits by the amount of pension benefits that a person is eligible to receive, but not being paid.
Contact Your Representative
If passed, the damage that would be done to the rights of Michigan injured workers and their families would be catastrophic. More and more Michigan families will slip into poverty and clog our overburdened social welfare programs. Medicaid and Medicare will assume the responsibility of insurance companies and large corporations to pay for needed medical care. More and more people will rely on food stamps, cash assistance grants, rent and utility assistance programs, etc...It will remove the employer's incentive to find work for injured workers and cast them aside as a casualty of corporate greed and arrogance. It is critical that you contact your representative and let them know how you feel before this bill is passed into law. Tell them you strongly oppose HB 5002.
Source: www.legislature.mi.gov, "House Bill No. 5002," Jacobsen, Bumstead, Jenkins, Damrow, Price, Lund, Agema, Pscholka, Lori, Olson, Shaughnessy, LaFontaine, Muxlow, MacGregor, Rendon and Zorn