Sunday, Feb. 13, 2005
Workers' comp laws may not need changing
SC Statehouse Report
13, 2005 - - Business interests quietly are starting to push
new changes to the states workers compensation
laws, but its not clear yet theyre needed.
When the S.C. Industrial Commission was created in 1935, the
state took the responsibility to compensate employees
for the economic consequences of work-related injury, illness,
and disease without regard to fault, according to the
Web site of the succeeding agency, the SC Workers Compensation
But the SC Chamber of Commerce is pushing for five reforms,
two of which appear to be against the interest of workers,
the people who commissioners are supposed to look out for.
The whole plan of the workers compensation system
was that in exchange for not being able to file tort claims
against your employer, you would be able to have a no-fault
system you could use when you got hurt on the job, regardless
of why or how, said John Ruoff, research director of
SC Fair Share. Employers are increasingly trying to
change it for a system you can barely collect under any circumstances.
WORLD: Nosy ATM
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The Chamber claims workers comp insurance rates are
out of control for employers for a number of reasons,
including lack of competition among insurance providers. The
business group suggests a way to reform the current system
to cut its costs would be to change the process to allow state
administrative judges to hear appeals, which would reduce
backlogs and free up time for workers comp commissioners.
Another idea is for the commission to adopt an alternative
system to allow mediations for easier cases, which would cut
costs and case loads. The Chamber also supports abolishing
the decades-old Second Injury Fund, a state fund that reimburses
insurance companies and self-insured employers. The group
claims the Fund is outdated and raises costs.
While those ideas may have some merit, two others are of concern.
First, the Chamber backs adding a rule to allow employers
to talk with an injured employees health care provider
without the employee knowing, ostensibly to check out the
readiness of injured workers to return to work. A state court
ruling in Brown v. Bi-Lo that has the Chamber in a sweat essentially
says employers have the rights to look at medical records,
but cant have unofficial ex parte conversations
without the worker being around.
Republican Rep. Greg Dellaney, who represents injured workers
in his Chester law practice, says allowing such communications
would hurt workers.
Insurance carriers and the defendant (company) already
get to choose the plaintiffs doctor and have to authorize
all treatment, said Dellaney, who opposed changes to
the current law. If you abolish Brown v. Bi-Lo
it would be undue influence on the doctor because these are
the people who chose him and who pay his bills.
Another Chamber priority would put more burdens on injured
workers. The group seeks to reverse another court decision,
which essentially said workers didnt have to have expert
testimony to describe how their injuries affected their work.
Chamber officials believe relying on a workers claims
of injuries, instead of having an expert opinion, leads to
more costly treatments than often needed.
But Dellaney points out that in 95 percent of workers
comp cases, injured workers dont have lawyers. By requiring
expert medical testimony, more of a burden is put on the injured
worker. Additionally, the Chambers position defies the
logic of other proposed reforms. By adding another layer to
the process, there will be increases in time and cost, both
of which other proposed changes seek to curb.
The other thing that doesnt make sense about the proposal
is that defendant businesses currently arent prohibited
from using their own medical experts to refute whatever a
worker would say.
Theyre trying to limit you to their witnesses,
The House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee currently
is considering workers comp changes in subcommittee.
More than likely, the House will approve many, if not all,
of the changes sought by the Chamber.
But when a bill gets to the Senate, it might not be so easy.
I am not of the mind to dismantle the workers
comp system, said Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn
McConnell, R-Charleston. [But] if there are some improvements
to be made, well look at them.
2/13: Valentine's reminder from nosy
A new cartoon from Bill McLemore
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2/7: A straight pin in room full of
To the editor:
Many thanks for being willing to be a straight pin
in a room full of balloons. (See
Commentary). The big picture is exactly what isnt
-- Rebecca Masters, Rock Hill, SC
2/3: Good explanation
of retirement problem
To the editor:
Thanks for taking the time to write a detailed explanation
Commentary) of the state retirement problem. It saves
me the effort of addressing the local legislative delegation
when they meet here this week.
It always amazes me that the legislature, in this case Senator
Thomas Alexander, will address the problems of the retirement
system as though it is the same system for all, including
the SC Legislative members. NOT TRUE. There are really three
systems; one for the legislature, one for Judges (and everyone
else included in law enforcement), and finally one for all
the masses: teachers, state employees of various positions,etc.
It will be interesting to follow Senator Alexander's recommendations.
-- Dot Gnann, Beaufort, SC
SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political events from the past week:
Public schools. Public education got a big boost this
week with a study by Miley and Associates that showed a school
voucher bill being pushed by the governor would suck $354
million out of public education over five years.
Sanford. The governor says he's not going to sign
a tougher seat belt law that it took the Senate two years
to pass. Why? Because it's tough enough. Mark "My Way
or the Highway" Sanford sticks to his principles ...
again ... while more people will die in wrecks.
Bauer. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer got the bad news that
fellow Republican Mike Campbell, son of former Gov. Carroll
Campbell, is going to run against him in 2006. While the news
isn't good, it probably will make Bauer work harder earlier,
which may make it easier for him to win.
Beyond shame. South Carolinians for Responsible Government,
the interest group pushing school vouchers, is being irresponsible
with inflammatory rhetoric on its blog
on Jan. 28 by referring to State Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum
as "Frau Tenenbaum." This is no better than extremist,
anti-Semitic language used years ago in former Gov. Carroll
Campbell's congressional campaign against Max Heller of Greenville.
Campbell's tactics kept him off a presidential ticket. If
this group persists, it likely will reflect poorly on its
ambitious savior, Gov. Mark Sanford.
SCETV. Offering free time to House Speaker David Wilkins
to talk about the Statehouse is fine. But equal time ought
to be given immediately to Democrats -- and to say Democrats
can tape responses is just silly. ETV ought to follow the
model of the weekly presidential radio comment.
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