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Politics, Work Comp, and Your Benefits

| Apr 20, 2021 | Advisory Council, Workers' Compensation

Work Comp payment to workers have stalled in recent years.

An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (on April 19, 2021) highlighted the political fight that has negatively affected injured workers over the last several years  The article, entitled Payments to injured workers in Wisconsin have been stagnant for four years because of a political fight, revealed how political disputes over Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation system used to be handled by the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, a group of labor and management representatives who negotiated and worked out a deal every two years on proposed changes to the work comp system.  The “Agreed-Upon” bill was then presented to the legislature, which generally endorsed the Advisory Council’s expertise and recommendations. That reasoned approach, over many decades, allowed for gradual and well-thought improvements to Wisconsin’s successful work comp system.  Unfortunately, the Council bill process has faced problems with the current legislature in the past decade (passing only 1 council bill in the past eight years).

As a result, rates for Permanent Partial Disability have remained stagnant at $362 per week for Wisconsin’s injured workers–one of the lowest benefit rates in the country (lower than Montana, West Virginia, or Idaho!…as the article indicates). On the flip side, medical expenses which count for almost two-thirds of the costs of workers’ compensation claims in Wisconsin are about 20% higher than those in surrounding states. We do not have set fees for medical procedures or visits, and medical providers have successfully fought every proposal to set fees for workers’ compensation injuries. Importantly, the article did not mention that by most metrics, Wisconsin has a low to average overall cost per worker’s compensation claim (despite the higher medical bills), when compared to other states.

Worker benefits remained the same while insurance premiums went down.

The focus on medical fees may be misleading.  Indeed, despite higher medical costs, workers’ compensation insurance premiums for employers have gone down by about 25% over the last five years.   Accordingly, employers are paying less for their worker’s compensation premiums, and workers’ compensation is still very profitable for workers’ compensation insurers.  These declining premiums for employer (and profits for insurance companies) are happening in spite of allegedly crushing medical treatment expenses–raising eyebrows about the validity of such concerns.

Unfortunately, the work comp savings have not been passed on to injured workers.  Proposed increased weekly rates (contained with Council bills) have not been successful in the legislature. With the next round of Advisory Council negotiations commencing, hopefully necessary benefit changes are in store for the injured workers of Wisconsin.

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