It didn’t take long for House Democrats to signal that they are serious about passing at least one union-backed bill this legislative session. Next week, the Iowa House will take up House File 530, a bill that wreak havoc on Iowa’s workers’ compensation system by changing the way physicians are selected to treat injured employees.
The bill will be in sub-committee on Monday, and a public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the State Capitol. Republican leaders are encouraging people call 515-281-5129 to sign up to speak out against the bill at the public hearing.
During the public hearing on the prevailing wage legislation, only a few people bothered to come speak against it. We need to make sure that the opposition is better represented this time. I’m told that immediately following the hearing, the Labor Committee will vote on the measure. It looks like House Democrats already have their minds made up on this one as they don’t need much time for deliberation.
Assuming they have the necessary votes, full floor debate is scheduled for Friday. While Democrat Leaders in the House have had trouble with their vote counting before, it is obvious that they are jamming this legislation through in one week in order to avoid input from constituents.
On the face of the bill, it seems very simple: injured workers should get to direct their own medical care if they are injured on the job. They should get to choose their doctor and not be referred to a doctor or specialist chosen by their employer.
What makes this issue not so simple is this: to make this legislative change will amount to standing Iowa’s workers’ compensation system on its head and will unravel a system that has been the model of the nation since 1913.
Iowa employers pay for the workers’ compensation system. They purchase insurance from specialized insurance carriers that write specific policies to pay for work-related injuries. If an employee is injured on the job, the insurance kicks in to pay lost wages, medical bills, and rehabilitation costs…all in an effort to lessen the blow of being injured (wage protection) and get him/her back to work both quickly and healthy (medical / rehabilitation).
Iowa’s system is one of the models in the United States, and especially in the Midwest. The benefits paid to injured Iowa workers rank 3rd highest in the nation, and 1st in the Midwest, according to the US Department of Labor and the Iowa Workforce Development offices.
Because the system is so well managed, Iowa employers rank 41st in terms of the premiums they pay. In other words, the efficient Iowa system allows employers to pay lower premiums to cover the cost of care for their workers, while also paying some of the highest benefits in the nation to the workers if they’re injured.
And it is critical to note that this “brand” of health care coverage, workers’ compensation, is completely paid for by the employer. There is no employee co-pay or employee deductible required. You show up to work, and you’re covered. It is provided by the employer at no cost to the employee.
Employers have a keen stake in the issue of workers’ compensation, and it has nothing to do with premium costs. Their #1 business asset is their people. If their employees are sick, injured, or unhealthy, they’re not productive. If employees aren’t productive, the employer suffers because he/she can’t get goods to market. No goods to market, no business…it’s Economics 101. Thus, it’s in the employer and employee’s best interest to get an injured employee healthy and back to work.
Given this mutual interest, employers in Iowa negotiate with doctors who are specialists in workplace injuries. The employer informs them of the normal practices and workload of a given job, what typical and non-typical injuries they’ve seen, and they establish a rapport to streamline the treatment of the injured employee, and the payment for that treatment. This negotiation and cooperation allows injured employees to see some of the best specialists in the state and keeps the cost of treatment efficient. The money saved can thus be used for increased benefits, rather than litigation and paperwork.
What the labor unions propose is this: that an employee, injured on the job, should be able to seek treatment from his/her family doctor, or the doctor of his/her choosing. Rather than be part of the system that isn’t broken, working exceptionally well, and offering them higher benefits than almost anyone in the country…they should be allowed to seek their own non-specialist’s diagnosis.
Just as was seen with the prevailing wage bill, there are huge costs associated with this bill. Iowa’s schools pay some of the highest workers’ compensation rates, as do Iowa’s municipalities. Turning the current system on its head will immediately impact these entities, at a time when schools and local governments are cutting every budget line item imaginable.
The care given to an injured employee will also suffer. Rather than being immediately referred to a specialist, the employee will go to his/her doctor, who will likely refer them to a specialist. In the process, the employee’s injury remains unattended for longer, there are increased costs, paperwork, and haggling over more charges.
And finally, the employee’s pocketbook will suffer. If the costs associated with providing workers’ compensation go up, something has to give. Employers will be forced to reduce wages, or worse yet, make even more radical changes in other benefits, such as retirement funds or health care (outside of workers’ compensation). In the end, neither of these is good for those the labor unions say they want to help…an injured Iowa employee.
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