May 3, 2004
In mid-April, the California legislature passed a new workers compensation bill, with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Signing the bill, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared "With this great reform, I can say to everyone, California is open for business."
Open for business – and open season on workers' compensation benefits.
First, it restricts the doctors a worker will be able to see to only those doctors in an employer-designated pool – that is, company doctors. Workers will no longer have the right to see their own doctor. At the same time, the workers' right to challenge or appeal the company doctors' medical reports will be severely curtailed.
The "reform" also restricts the kinds of injuries that are covered to only those documented by "objective criteria." This will make it much more difficult for workers to win claims for conditions such as carpal tunnel injuries, back strains and migraines which are extremely painful but that sometimes don't show any other symptoms.
It also cuts benefits. If the company can claim that the worker had a pre-existing condition that contributed to a "work-related" problem, the worker's compensation payments can be reduced.
Finally, the "reform" allows the company to cut off payments for what are deemed to be temporary disabilities after two years – which means that workers might have their benefits cut off before they are healed.
All of this was justified with the usual claims about "abuse" of the system.
Yes, there's "abuse" of the system.
The past "deregulation" of both the insurance and health care companies that deal with workers comp, has allowed these companies to charge practically what they want. Some clinics now charge four or five times more for the treatment of workers comp injuries than for ordinary patients – knowing that the insurance companies, which they are often affiliated with, will pass along the price increases.
The "abuse" of the system comes from the employers who deny injured workers benefits and from the insurance and health care companies who rip them off.