North Carolina Workers’ Comp Bill a Threat to Injured Workers, Both Present and Future

By Richard Thayer

It’s easy to get so preoccupied with attacks on worker’s rights in other states and on the national level that we lose sight of what’s happening in our own backyard. And if there isn’t a great deal about it in the news (in our backyard), then it’s even easier to overlook it. Until it’s too late.

While our attention has been diverted to the threats against collective bargaining, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a plethora of other items on the Republicans’ hit list, we may have missed noticing that we have a hit squad busily at work in Raleigh concocting a plan that, if completed successfully, would adversely affect thousands of injured workers right here in North Carolina.

Perhaps another reason this bit of news has gone undetected by so many North Carolinians is because it sounds so harmless, even good. I’m referring to House bill 709, the “Protect and Put North Carolina Back to Work” bill.

The name of the bill, like some of the information being put out by the backers of said bill, is misleading. It could be more accurately called: “The Protect the Insurance Industry and Put Injured Workers Back to Work For Less Pay” bill.

The supposed purpose of this bill–that which is being pushed by its Republican sponsors and the insurance industry–is that it would allow North Carolina to become more competitive with other states that have passed similar bills and would reduce fraudulent workers’ compensation claims.

Actually, what we need right now is a bill that would reduce fraudulent claims about bills being introduced by our lawmakers that claim to be good for hard working citizens when, in fact, they aren’t.

Despite what the bill claims to be, what it actually is is a bailout for the insurance industry. And what’s good for the insurance industry is good for those politicians who are heavily funded by the insurance lobby. Thus we now have bill 709 working its way through the North Carolina General Assembly. It will be voted on fairly soon, either this week or next.

For one thing, House bill 709 would completely change the North Carolina Industrial Commission rules and those changes will affect everyone with workers’ compensation claims whether they be future or present. Here are some of the ways those with workers’ comp claims will be affected:

  • There’s a section called “suitable employment rules.” These are rules that are “suitable” perhaps for an employer, but not so much for the employee. These rules would force the injured worker back into a job that pays him less than before he/she was injured, despite their skill level. In essence, since you have drawn workers’ compensation, you’re now considered as damaged goods and thus are not deserving of drawing a decent wage for your knowledge and work skills.
  • The bill would make it extremely difficult for the injured worker to change physicians or seek a second opinion. So, if the doctor you saw initially is swayed by your insurance provider to send you back to work prematurely, then you’re pretty much stuck with that decision.
  • Your medical privacy would no longer be private. Under the provisions of the bill, as it now stands, the insurance company, attorneys and the employer would have full access to your medical records without the person’s knowledge or consent. The concept of Big Brother in George Orwell’s “1984” would become very much a reality, although 27 years late.

Among those opposed to the bill — and there are many — are North Carolina Advocates for Justice and AARP North Carolina. They are all concerned about the medical and financial challenges that this bill would create for our state’s retired, injured workers if they had to rely solely on their Social Security benefits.

Although Representative Mike Hager (R), one of the sponsors of the bill, says on his website that “this bill does not affect the benefits of anyone currently on workers’ comp,” that isn’t true. It does.

If you would like to sign a petition against House bill 709, you can go <a href="If you wait, it will be too late. Pasted from http://signon.org/sign/do-not-hurt-nc-injured?source=c.em.mt”>here.

To contact your elected official and tell them to vote “no” on this bill, go here.

If you would like additional information on the pending bill, you can find it at protectncworkers.com.

Our State Association’s vice president, Craig Schadewald, has some comments on the bill and the importance of our being politically active. That post can be viewed on our website by going here.


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