Sometimes, there are complexities within the arguments over workers’ compensation laws. And it almost always involves money. It’s too bad that in so many states, money comes before workers.
But I don’t think that’s currently the case here in Nebraska. Although we have a mostly fair workers’ compensation process that started about a century ago, more efforts can always be made to advocate for workers’ rights, especially when those workers have been injured and are protected through the workers’ compensation system. Because when a worker is dealing with being hurt and all the stress that comes with an injury, worrying about all the bills coming in should take a backseat to getting as healthy as possible under the circumstances.
A bill in the Nebraska Legislature, LB291, “would require that medical payments be paid within 30 days after notice is given to the employer or after a final order of the compensation court,” according to the “Unicameral Update.” Sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, the bill was the subject of a recent hearing in the Business and Labor Committee. It essentially protects workers’ credit scores and prevents further stress by making sure the bills related to a worker’s injury are paid in a timely manner by the party that’s supposed to pay the bills in a workers’ compensation claim: the employer, which firm shareholder Roger Moore noted in a recent blog post. And it also brings that part of the workers’ compensation process into line with the penalties that employers incur if they withhold workers’ checks, an issue that attorney Brody Ockander addressed in a 2012 blog post.
If passed, the bill would really add some teeth to the notion of having workers’ bills paid promptly, and would reassure a large number of our Nebraska clients who get not only bills, but many other financially-related and upsetting communications from healthcare providers, when employers don’t pay in a timely matter. According to the “Unicameral Update: The Nebraska Legislature’s official news source since 1977” story, “Under the bill, 50 percent of the amount payable would be added to the charge and paid to the employee if the medical payment is not paid within 30 days.”
The anti-worker, pro-business Nebraskans for Workers’ Compensation Equity and Fairness was one of the groups that testified in opposition of the bill because “current law already compensates employees fairly … so paying additional sums to them would provide a ‘windfall’ to injured workers,” according to the “Unicameral Update.” I don’t think the term “windfall” is accurate, as the intent is to penalize the employers for not following through on their commitments in a timely manner, and we all have to pay late fees in life if we don’t pay our bills on time, so why should employers be any different? Besides, if employers did what they were supposed to by supporting hurt employees on workers’ compensation, honestly, we would have a lot fewer clients! Attorney Roger Moore noted the exact concern this bill addresses in a 2012 blog post: “The reality is that most of our clients come to us because their injury-related medical bills are not being paid or they’re not being paid for time off from work due to their injury.” So instead of a “windfall,” because nobody asks to or wants to get hurt, I see this penalty as another way to protect injured workers and hold employers accountable.
The reality is that the attorneys and staff at Rehm, Bennett & Moore will always advocate for workers’ rights. We will continue to write blog posts specifically about bills in the Nebraska Legislature that could affect workers, both positively and negatively, if passed. Be sure and follow the legislature while in session by going to http://nebraskalegislature.gov/. Because I think an inscription by philosopher Hartley Burr Alexander on the Nebraska Capitol building says it best: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen.”