I read with bittersweet thoughts that the state’s high-risk insurance program was winding down, in anticipation of the implementation of the insurance exchanges through the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”). Health insurance-or lack thereof-is crucial to the lives and health of injured workers. In this space, I’ve written in the past about the problems faced by workers without health insurance.
There is no provision under the Wisconsin worker’s compensation system that requires an employer to continue an employee’s health insurance while recovering from a work injury. Also, if a claim is denied and the worker is terminated (a situation that happens all too frequently), the employee generally loses health insurance coverage because continuing COBRA premiums is too costly. Of course, there are also the multitudes of workers that simply have no employer-provided health insurance at all. In all of these situations, an injured worker may be faced with the situation of needing medical treatment for their injury but unable to get it without insurance.
In many of these situations, some of my clients have turned to the Wisconsin Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan. If these workers were not eligible for Medicaid or Badger Care, then “HIRSP” was a potential safety net that allowed for health insurance coverage. With some coverage, the injured worker could at least pursue some medical care. For me, seeing that beneficial program fade away hurts.
The bright side is the hope of ObamaCare and increased access to health insurance. Now, our governor’s short-sighted (or politically-calculated) decision to reject the expansion of Medicaid coverage may hinder this expansion-and cause some further confusion. The key, however, is further hope. If an injured individual is without insurance, a downward spiral can happen fast. Regardless of whether someone’s disability is work-related or not, if they are hurting, access to medical care should be a right.