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Articles Tagged with opt out

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In 2015, I wrote a post about the lobbyist push to enact “opt out” systems for workers’ compensation benefits. You can read more about workers’ compensation opt out systems in that post here.

Opt out systems are terrible for injured workers. In my prior post I explained several ways in which large employers would opt out of workers’ compensation benefits and write their own plans to exclude valid work-related injuries. Opt out systems allow large companies to treat workers as expendable commodities. Our families and neighbors deserve better.

The State of Texas has long had an opt out work comp system. I could write, at length, about unjust treatment of injured workers under that system. That’s where the lobbyist push began and spread to other states. Corporate lobbyists began to push similar proposals in other state legislatures. This led to the State of Oklahoma also enacting an opt out system. While not yet proposed in Alabama, similar proposals were attempted in nearby states, including Tennessee.

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Protect-Our-Workers-300x300Regular readers of this blog know my feelings about workers’ compensation — The system is already unfair to injured workers. That’s why my law firm philosophy in workers’ compensation cases is to fight hard so our clients receive the maximum benefits possible.

On earlier occasions, I’ve criticized the completely outrageous concept in other states of opt out systems. These systems started in Texas and then spread to Oklahoma. If you want some background, you can read a few of my prior posts such as:

Workers’ Compensation Opt Out Systems — A Return To The Jungle

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As part of its ongoing series on workers’ compensation laws, ProPublica has discussed new opt out systems in states like Texas. In October, I wrote about opt out systems and the harm they cause injured workers. Thankfully, Alabama has not adopted such a system.

Earlier this week, a Texas attorney told the story of Billy Shawn Walkup and how the Texas opt out system failed him. If you are concerned with how we treat working families, you should read the post. After suffering his injury, did Walkup get the medical care he needed? No. Under an opt out system, employers write their own rules. So, Walkup’s employer had him sign a waiver – preventing any lawsuit against the company. Next, the company fired Walkup when he did not recover from his injuries quickly. Finally, when the treating doctor determined Walkup’s injury was serious, the company sent him for a “so-called” independent medical examination. The company used the results of that biased examination to cut off needed medical benefits.

Walkup still needs surgery and disability benefits. According to the story, he barely functions as a result of his injury. But now, his employer can shift these costs to other working taxpayers through Social Security and Medicare. That’s not fair to Walkup or the rest of us. Yet, it is exactly how giant employers will re-write the rules in an opt out system. Here are a few unjust new rules you can expect big corporations to write:

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Blackwell Law Firm: Helping Injured Alabama WorkersOur current workers’ compensation system is unfair and provides inadequate benefits to injured workers. Yet, it’s much better than the newest proposal pushed by corporate lobbyists – an opt out system.

Workers’ compensation protections are under constant threat from corporate lobbyists. In Alabama, lobbyists have regularly pushed legislative proposals to cut-off medical and disability benefits after arbitrary periods of time. And, insurance interests have worked overtime to prevent the legislature from raising a cap placed on partial disability benefits decades ago.

One new threat is the “opt out” system enacted in Texas and Oklahoma. In that system, large companies can basically opt out of a state workers’ compensation system and write their own plans. In other words, employers can write their own rules. In practice, opt out systems allow arbitrary plans that do not value injured workers.

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Untitled-design-3-300x169An interesting article discusses the quiet lobbying effort to gut workers’ compensation laws bankrolled by Walmart and several other large retailers. According to the article, these companies have supported and funded a behind the scenes lobbying effort to dramatically change workers’ compensation laws in many states. My state, Alabama, is on the group’s target list.

The changes come quietly. In state legislatures, the group’s lobbyists work to promote legislation which limits or diminishes basic benefits to injured workers. One of the major efforts of this business group is to create an opt-out system for workers’ compensation. How would such a system work? Workers’ compensation benefits in Alabama are already extremely limited. Yet, although limited, the system does mandate certain basic medical and disability benefits for workers.

Under an opt-out system, a business could choose to opt-out of the workers’ compensation system and write its own benefit plan. The employer could be allowed to write its own rules governing benefits. If this ever became a reality in Alabama (and it already has in a couple states), here’s what injured workers and their families could possibly see and suffer —

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Blackwell Law Firm - Huntsville Injury LawyersEach year, our workers’ compensation system in Alabama faces new threats from the insurance industry. In some states, like Texas, the system has been dramatically altered leaving many injured workers unable to recover and return to gainful employment. Opt out systems like those in Texas often allow the largest and richest employers to write their own rules! Really, does anyone think companies like Walmart will write plans that truly protect their workers???

In Alabama, the system remains unfair. Year-after-year, our legislature refuses to address the injustice. Whenever the Alabama Legislature does consider even a slight improvement, it is simply an exchange for removing another valuable benefit. Indeed, big business and big insurance lobbyists view any slight effort to modify work comp laws as an opportunity to remove or reduce benefits.

Injured Alabama workers with a partial disability impacting their ability to work are often compensated below Federal poverty levels. Our state has not increased partial disability payments in over two decades! While benefits to workers are over two decades behind inflation, some of our legislators continue to propose new laws that would cut off other important benefits. These same legislators have raised their own pay (and that of other state officials during this time period).

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