For too many of our clients, an injury at work means certain financial distress. Even for clients whose benefits are paid in a timely manner, there are certain built-in time frames when they will receive no benefits or benefits at a much lower rate than a full paycheck (sometimes as little as 5 or 10 percent of a typical paycheck).
In Nebraska, temporary benefits are paid only until maximum medical improvement is reached. We try to have a report waiting for the doctor when it appears as if he may conclude an injured worker is at that point. However, due to the workload of the doctors and sometimes the need for a Functional Capacity Evaluation, a worker can go months without any benefits coming in before the receipt of the report. There is no interim benefit payable to get a worker and his or her family by until permanent benefits are paid.
This situation is made worse when a claim is denied. In that situation, a worker may find herself unable to work for several reasons. First, an employer may not think it’s their responsibility to accommodate work restrictions for a non-work-related injury. This may also ultimately result in a worker being fired for missing too much work. Second, a doctor may not allow the worker to work due to the severity of the injury. Typically an employer will refuse to pay temporary benefits since the claim was denied.
Most families in this country live paycheck to paycheck or with only a month or two of built-up savings.
“Forty-four percent of Americans are either in debt, have no savings at all, or have only enough savings to tide them over for up to three months if they lose their jobs, according to an Assets and Opportunity report last year,” according to this article on the Fiscal Times website.
Too often in this country, families of injured workers are being evicted or losing their homes due to gaps in the compensation system for work injuries. “In reality, the costs of workplace injury and illness are borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported safety-net programs. … Workers’ compensation payments cover only a small fraction (about 21 percent) of lost wages and medical costs of work injuries and illnesses; workers, their families and their private health insurance pay for nearly 63 percent of these costs, with taxpayers shouldering the remaining 16 percent,” according to a recent OSHA report titled Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs of Failing to Protect Workers on the Job.
Legislatures should endeavor to create a payment system to alleviate the built-in financial woes for even compensable injuries.