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The race to the bottom

Workers' compensation insurance in the United States evolved out of the need to provide some predictable form of compensation to workers who were severely injured on the job. In the industrial era of steam railroads, coalmines and huge steel mills, injuries to workers were often horrific, debilitating or fatal. Injured workers and their families were often left with few financial resources.

The development on an insurance system for injured workers was designed to provide compensation for the workers and to prevent employers from being found liable for their negligence and forced to pay large settlements to their injured workers. While many believe that the system was developed primarily to benefit workers, the financial benefit to employers has probably been as great or greater.

But, as with many institutional systems within this country, many of the lessons of the past have been forgotten. From the neglect of the transportation infrastructure (no politicians want to raise taxes to fix the roads and bridges) to the abandonment of many of the New Deal reforms imposed on the Banking and Finance industries to counteract abuses that led to the Great Recession, the current generation forgets why many of these programs and laws were created in the first place.

A recent report from NPR/ProPublica details the dismantling of the workers' compensation system in many states. From lower the benefit payment amounts and placing time limits on how long benefits will be paid to making difficult to obtain necessary surgeries, treatments and prescription medicines, the experience of many badly injured workers has become one unending trauma.

One injured warehouse worker, who had his home health aide removed by the insurance company after they reopened his case, was left unable to control his bowels after being crushed in a warehouse accident. His misery and indignities were so great, he began to wonder if he had difficulty at age 48, what would he do as he became older?

And what does happen to many of the workers who have been pushed out of the workers' compensation system? If you were wondering why a Social Security Disability blog was spending so much time on workers' compensation, it is because SSD has become the last refuge for those workers with no other options.

This is another reason the cost of the SSD program has increased. The states and employers' savings is borne by the federal program and taxpayers.

NPR.com, "Injured Workers Suffer As 'Reforms' Limit Workers' Compensation Benefits," Howard Berkes, Michael Grabell, ProPublica, March 4, 2015

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