Sunday, June 29, 2003

Workers Compensation Letters to the Editor

Printed below are letters to the editor of the NY Times in response to the article about the current workers comp article that I wrote about last Monday.

To the Editor:
Re "Cost of Insurance for Work Injuries Soars Across U.S." (front page, June 23):

Fraud is a real problem. Rising medical costs trouble Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance as well as workers' compensation. The insurance industry has only itself to blame for speculative investments and ill-advised premium wars.

But readers should know that large numbers of injured workers never claim compensation, out of ignorance or fear of employer reprisals; employers and insurers systematically reject valid claims, hoping workers will abandon them or accept low settlements; and state laws compensate workers for less than their lost wages (typically two-thirds, with a ceiling); death payments are low (often shockingly); and there is no explicit payment for pain and suffering.

Before we rush to reduce workers' compensation, we must address the fact that it neither compensates nor deters employers from creating unsafe workplaces.

Los Angeles, June 23, 2003
The writer is a professor at U.C.L.A. Law School.

To the Editor:
Your report about the soaring cost of workers' compensation insurance (front page, June 23) is yet more evidence that the current malpractice insurance crisis is predominantly a result of the insurance industry and its 10-year roller coaster cycles.

If the sudden substantial premium costs were spread out over a 10-year period, they would look far less remarkable.

While reforming the malpractice system by imposing caps on damages recovery can make the system less costly, the fairness of taming the industry's volatility on the backs of the most seriously injured victims is highly questionable.

Reform of the method by which damages are determined to reduce the substantial variations and extreme awards would be desirable. So would reform of the insurance industry to avoid the cyclical crisis in insurance premiums.

Winston-Salem, N.C., June 24, 2003
The writer is a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law.

To the Editor:

Re "Cost of Insurance for Workplace Injuries Soars Across U.S." (front page, June 23):

Bad labor relations is a component of employee fraud in many cases. Employees who don't like their jobs or their employers are more likely to fake injuries or exaggerate claims than those who are more satisfied with their jobs. Added to this mix are layoffs and pressure from management on fewer workers to produce more. Speeding up the assembly line has a cost.

Glenmont, N.Y. June 24, 2003

To the Editor:

Re your June 23 front-page article about the rising costs of workers' compensation insurance:

The California Legislature deregulated the workers' compensation insurance industry in 1993 at the behest of the state Chamber of Commerce. This action spurred a frenzy of predatory pricing among insurance companies that saved employers $3 billion to $5 billion per year during the mid-to-late 1990's, but also drove more than two dozen insurance companies out of business.

These price wars have ended, rates are skyrocketing, and employers are confronting the repercussions of the free-market reforms they pushed through in 1993. Yet California businesses are trying to attribute higher rates to recent benefit increases for injured workers. In addition, a bill sponsored by the state A.F.L.-C.I.O. to curb excessive rate increases has won no business support.

If the free-market ideologues win the current battle in the California Legislature, it will be injured workers and their families who suffer the consequences.

President, California Labor
Federation, A.F.L.-C.I.O.
Sacramento, June 25, 2003