Reforming Workers' Compensation

April 13, 1990

Report Outline
Special Focus

Introduction

Workers' compensation, the system that provides cash and medical benefits to workers for job-related injuries and illnesses, is under attack from all sides. Workers complain of administrative red tape and inordinate delays in processing their claims; employers say that spiraling costs threaten to put them out of business; and insurers claim they aren't taking in enough money to cover their costs. The problems with workers' comp have grown so severe in recent years that labor, management and insurers are all calling for major reforms.

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Overview

When Elizabeth Groves' husband was electrocuted in June 1987, while on the job for the Indiana power company where he worked, she wanted more than sympathy. At the very least, she expected prompt payment from the state's workers' compensation system to cover burial expenses and death benefits. But all Mrs. Groves got was the runaround. “The company didn't help her, the insurance carrier didn't help her, and the state's workers' compensation bureau didn't help,” says James N. Ellenberger, the AFL-CIO's assistant director of occupational safety, health and social security. In fact, Mrs. Groves didn't get any benefits at all until a member of Congress intervened on her behalf.

Mrs. Groves' case may sound extreme, but in truth, it isn't all that unusual. Workers' compensation, the state-mandated insurance program that covers workers for on-the-job injury or illness, often fails the very people it is supposed to protect. “In state after state,” Ellenberger says, “workers' legitimate claims are delayed, contested and frequently denied.”

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