Comp "Reform" Hits the Most Seriously Injured the Hardest
Arnold Schwarzenegger's version of Workers' Compensation has been a bonanza for insurance companies - and a betrayal for Californians hurt on the job. When the debate over "reforming" Workers' Comp began, all sides said they agreed that seriously injured employees needed greater relief. What happened? The governor's mean-spirited 2004 law capped Temporary Disability benefits and changed apportionment laws discriminating against older workers. Most injured workers lost the right to pick their doctor, and utilization reviews have delayed and severely limited medical care.
And that was just the beginning. Schwarzenegger's hand-picked Comp Administrator, Andrea Hoch, has imposed policies that go far beyond anything State Legislators ever intended. Hoch has used American Medical Association guidelines to cut Permanent Disability ratings an average of 40%. The most severely injured workers have felt the greatest pain.
Take the case of Sandra Howell. According to Voters Injured At Work (VIAW), an organization for injured employees, Howell ruptured three discs when she grabbed a falling metal shelf in 2001, and was rated 100% disabled under the old law. "I have two rods and six screws in my back. I'd like to go back to work, but I'm unable," she said. Under the new law, though, her Permanent Disability benefits were cut 90% - from $25,480 every year for the rest of her life to a total of only $30,940.
Two things are clear: First, the Workers' Comp deck has never been more stacked against injured workers. Between the risk of having a claim denied by choosing an antagonistic evaluating doctor from a State Medical Panel, and having benefits cut because of AMA guidelines or apportionment, it is more important than ever to consult a skilled lawyer as soon as possible.
Second, injured Californians may never get relief unless unions help. Pick up the phone today and call Sacramento. Let your elected representatives know that you demand fair Workers' Comp reform, and instruct your government relations specialists to make it a top legislative priority.