In 2005 the state of Missouri did something unusual. It removed Occupational Diseases from the realm of workers' compensation, opting instead to let those cases be handled in traditional civil courts.
This week the state Senate has taken firm steps to return these cases to workers' comp, bringing better cost certainty to the businesses in that state. It passed SB572, the primary objective of which was to reincorporate occupational disease cases back into the comp system. According to an article published today in the Insurance Journal, “The legislation would also prevent illegal immigrants or people who are in prison from collecting workers' compensation benefits.”
A similar bill is working its way through the house. Successful passage of a final bill seems likely.
I completely agree with the overall intent of this legislation. Bringing occupational illnesses back under the coverage of workers' compensation aligns the state of Missouri with most other comp systems. The system was created to provide consistency, predictability and stability. It was known as the “great compromise”, and to selectively excise certain job related conditions from others seems oddly out of place. Critics of this bill claim that job related illnesses are much different, and have greater requirements than job related injuries, and therefore should not be in the comp arena, but I believe this is an unfair comparison. Certainly a sprained ankle does come close to the personal devastation of black lung disease, but a worker turned quadriplegic certainly is in the same neighborhood.
How can we say one should be covered by workers' comp, and the other left to fend for themselves in open court?
No, the 2005 legislation allowed for high dollar diseases to be leveraged by those who could best profit from them – and that was not always the ill and suffering worker. Returning this area to comp makes sense; for employers, employees and the workers' compensation system in the state.
I have mixed emotions on the remaining elements of this legislation. I am pleased that it stops workers' comp payments to those in prison. Workers' compensation provides indemnity benefits for those who cannot work. Call me an old fashioned curmudgeon, but the concept of prison pretty much precludes the ability to work in the first place, does it not? What supposed employment are they compensated for?
I am not a fan however, of blocking medical benefits for injured workers here illegally. I am not supporting illegal immigration, but this strikes me as a politically popular showboat maneuver that completely fails to address the underlying problem. It stands to reason, if someone hires them, and pays premiums on them, we should not deny them care because it now is politically convenient to do so.
But that's probably a subject best held for a future discussion…..
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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