A Tale of Two Sides: Iowa Capital Hearings

08 Mar, 2017 Angela Underwood


Des Moines, IA (WorkersCompensation.com) - Proposed House and Senate bills that would alter workers' compensation continue to cause controversy at the capital this week, calling for special after-hours sessions.

Over the weekend, Sen. Michael Breitbach (R-Strawberry Point), told WorkersCompensation.com the debate from last week would continue this week, hoping the legislation "adds certainty to the workers’ compensation system," and "establishes guides and amounts of compensation in some situations."

In former Wonder Bread truck loader and Sioux City resident Doug Collins’ "situation," the proposed legislation would not have been in his favor since his workers' compensation settlement stemmed from a pre-existing injury from his adolescence. If approved, employees with a work-related injury connected to a pre-existing injury would have minimum-to-no coverage, which is appalling to Dennis McElwain, attorney with Smith and McElwain Law Office. He has practiced in Iowa for 33 years.

McElwain has had no problem making his opinion known on the proposed legislation, authoring a March 5 editorial in the Sioux City Journal, attending the subcommittee hearings held this week at the capital, and speaking with WorkersCompensation.com Wednesday afternoon.

"They are gutting our system, wall to wall. It is taking away the right to have a lawyer essentially and cutting benefits in every aspect of workers' compensation," he said. "It is being done and pushed by the big companies with their phony antics about outrageous stories of fraud and overcompensation. But for those who work behind the scenes and in the trenches every day, it is an outrageous violation of peoples' rights."

Calling out the Republican-dominated legislature as "incredible,” and not in the positive sense of the word, McElwain projected that if passed, 60 to 70 percent of claims that would be compensable will be denied.  

"It is going to cause financial ruin on these families going forward. It is an appalling situation," McElwain said. Both McElwain and Collins attended this week’s capital subcommittee hearings.   

"I was the first injured worker to speak," said Collins of being ninth among thirty public members allowed to speak for three minutes each night. He said he believes it’s "his duty" as an injured worker to speak among the doctors, lawyers and business owners also in line. "The last thing I said to the council last night was I was served well by the current system and it still took seven years for me to get resolution. You cannot make this harder," said Collins, who is now a full-time pastor.

Along with stopping coverage for pre-existing conditions, the legislation also looks to reduce coverage for shoulder injuries and minimize late fees for employers. While McElwain said he is not impressed with any progress in proposed amendments the last two nights, Collins said he was impressed with all the testimony, especially since "the doctors were all on the side of keeping it [the system] the way that it is."

"It is the larger companies that are looking to change the law," he said, adding, "The thing I struggle with is the big companies that have the capacity to address this issue outside of the workers’ comp system, are instead blaming the work comp system for their problems." 

Proposed amendments to the bills are still under discussion, which is what should continue, according to Collins, who said if it took more than a year to create the Iowa workers’ compensation system in 1912, then "it deserves more time," than just a week in the subcommittee to see real success.


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    • Angela Underwood

      Author Angela Underwood has worked as a reporter, feature writer and editor for more than a decade. Her prior roles as Municipal Beat Correspondent with Gannett and Public Information Officer for Toms Rivers government in New Jersey have given her experience on both sides of the political and media fences, making her passionate about policy and the public’s right-to-know.

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