Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Demolition of Worker’s Comp: The continuing assault on labor

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Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes have an important story in ProPublica:

DENNIS WHEDBEE’S CREW WAS RUSHING to prepare an oil well for pumping on the Sweet Grass Woman lease site, a speck of dusty plains rich with crude in Mandaree, North Dakota.

It was getting late that September afternoon in 2012. Whedbee, a 50-year-old derrickhand, was helping another worker remove a pipe fitting on top of the well when it suddenly blew.

Oil and sludge pressurized at more than 700 pounds per square inch tore into Whedbee’s body, ripping his left arm off just below the elbow. Coworkers jerry-rigged a tourniquet from a sweatshirt and a ratchet strap to stanch his bleeding and got his wife on the phone.“Babe,’’ he said, “tell everyone I love them.”

It was exactly the sort of accident that workers’ compensation was designed for. Until recently, America’s workers could rely on a compact struck at the dawn of the Industrial Age: They would give up their right to sue. In exchange, if they were injured on the job, their employers would pay their medical bills and enough of their wages to help them get by while they recovered.

No longer.

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 that they virtually guarantee injured workers will plummet into poverty. Workers often battle insurance companies for years to get the surgeries, prescriptions and basic help their doctors recommend.

Two-and-a-half years after he lost his arm, Whedbee is still fighting with North Dakota’s insurance agency for the prosthesis that his doctor says would give him a semblance of his former life.

The 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.

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.

ProPublica analyzed reams of insurance industry data, studied arcane state laws and obtained often confidential medical and court records to provide an unprecedented look at the unwinding of workers’ comp laws across the country.

Among the findings: . . .

Continue reading.

What they found is sobering indeed. I have to think that ultimately this sort of government action is due to citizen indifference: the low voting turnouts (in the current race in LA, the turnout is about 8% of voters) means that legislators no longer respond to the public at large and are free to ignore the public welfare. If all vote, then the issues of most concern to the public will get the attention they deserve.

Perhaps the US could adopt the Australian practice of levying a fine (in the $100 range) on those who fail to vote. Since early voting and absentee ballots are readily available, I don’t see a reason that would stop eligible voters from casting a ballot—other than indifference, of course.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2015 at 10:59 am

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