Workers Compensation & Healthcare Justice

Date and Time:
Saturday, October 31, 10:45AM-11:45AM

Facilitator: Joel Shufro, former executive director, New York Committee for Occupational Safey & Health

Matt Belcher, Aleksy Belcher, Immediate Past President,

Jonathan Kissam, member of the Vermont Workers' Center and the Healthcare Is A Human Right Campaign

Dave Manchetti, Cullen Haskins Nicholoson Menchetti

James McGee, Executive Director, Transit Employees Health & Welfare Fund.

Ben Palmquist, Campaign Manager, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.

Description: Workers compensation—the system established to care for injured and ill workers—is in crisis. With very little national attention, corporate interests have gutted workers comp systems in state after state, depriving workers of needed care and allowing employers to escape liability by throwing injured workers onto an overburdened healthcare system. This workshop will discuss the nature and scope of the crisis, how single-payer can be part of the solution, and the potential of mobilizing injured workers, their families and their unions in the fight for healthcare justice.

Notes from Conference Participants:

Joel Shufro: 3 million people per year injured on the job -> single payer should incorporate workers' compensation.

Jim McGee: Workers comp disputes mean workers get rehabilitated less quickly and are less productive, less money for the company -> move compensation into comprehensive health coverage

Dav Manchetti: Somewhat like a single payer system because don't have to pay into it, no co-pays or cost-sharing. Different standards of care than others: treatment of workers to get them back to work, unlike Medicare. Access: in some states, employees can choose provider; in others, no choice. Reimbursement: fairly generous. Indemnity benefits: increase or decrease with integration into single-payer. Coordination of benefits: who pays for what, and to whom -> simplified under integration? Employer accountability: lose incentive to make workplace safer, if all rehab is going to be covered anyways? Public Citizen: believes employers need to be held accountable.

Matt Belcher: 1) Must assess cost of doing business -> employers successfully shifting costs to taxpayers; 2) injured workers & profit motive do not go together -> create state run compensation funds rather than insurance companies. Experience ratings on safety - penalize employer if employees don't come back to work after injury, issue of incentive for employers to make safer workplace to avoid payments.

Jon Kissam: "organize the whole person" - not over a policy. Workers' comp report is on web. Vermont legislators/leaders were not interested in health care justice generally, just the single payer policy. Some unions did not want to see the change. Difficult to organize injured workers not in unions.

Ben Palmquist: People are sick/dying due to workers' comp issues. Fragmented social insurance programs -> people fall through the cracks -> less power. Since 2003, states have restricted: -> 37 states: cannot pick your own doctor -> 1 state: "opt-out" - employers can opt out of public system, run own system -> burgeoning corporate effort to pass "opt out" laws in states. Truly universal social insurance.

  • Workers' comp potentially in violation of 7th amendment (right to jury, etc)
  • 20% of SSOI are from workers' injuries
  • Nixon was going to federalize workers comp if it did not meet minimum standards
  • WC initially meant to be a no fault program, no longer the case

Slideshows, Photos, and Video:

Pro Publica Series on Workers' Compensation

Handout comparing single payer with workers' compensation

Photos: Frances and Carlos Read their stories in articles from NPR and the New York Times

Take Action!

Bill of Rights for Injured Workers in New York State with organizational endorsement form

Further reading on workers' comp:

Checklist of Current Problems in Workers' Compensation by Jim Ellenberger (retired, AFL-CIO)

APHA statement on Workers' Compensation Reform

National Trends and Developments in Workers' Compensation by NESRI

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