The workers’ compensation system is antiquated. It was designed for a time that is long gone and it no longer well serves working Americans, says Mark Walls, vice president of communications and strategic analysis at Safety National.
“Workers compensation insurance needs to evolve to reflect the realities of the workforce in the US today. The system was created a hundred years ago when most jobs were in manufacturing and most injuries were traumatic—amputations, crushing. Everyone knew someone was injured the minute it happened.
Today, he says, there are far fewer severe accidents, but a lot of occupational diseases and a lot of repetitive motion injuries.
“Quite frankly, there are things workers’ comp is simply not set up to deal with including occupational disease. There is no question that the workplace can cause disease and there is no question that sometimes it takes years for these diseases to develop,” he says. “We can’t deny this. Workers’ comp needs to evolve to deal with occupational disease better.”
He says workers’ comp was not designed to handle these kinds of things. “The reporting process is not set up for injuries of this nature, the system simply has not evolved to reflect the modern workplace,” Walls says.
Each state puts caps on the maximum benefit that is tied to average wages in the state, but Walls says the caps are far too low. In many states, the maximum anyone can receive is around $1100 a week, he says, adding that “today there are lots of skilled craftspeople who earn more than that. For anyone who earns a good living, going on workers comp can be a devastating blow, when it should not be.
“The caps are an outdated concept. Someone earning $100,000 a year is used to living on that wage. They can’t live on $50,000. The caps can have a devastating effect on people’s lives.”
Walls says it is well known that the system has problems and needs to be tweaked. “The structure of the system has not changed to keep up with the times.”
He says he knows there are people who will be resistant to changes in the system. “Raising or eliminating caps will cost businesses more. Right now, there is a lot of cost shifting, so that people who really should be covered under workers’ comp are shifted to their group health plans, to Medicaid, to Social Security disability. I’ve heard that 20% of the people receiving Social Security disability should really be on workers’ comp, but I think the number is actually much higher. We are starting to see pressure from the federal government to move these people back to Workers Comp, and that pressure will only grow,” he says.