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Worker's Comp Changes Proposed

By: Dan Egger-Belandria
State Capital Bureau

February 07, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Carl Jaynes is similar to many small business owners in Missouri - he pays taxes, he employs less than 1OO people, and he is fed up with high insurance premiums for worker's compensation that he blames on fraud.

"There are so many features in worker's compensation that businesses have no control of. I've got some employees that I know darn well have other activities...sports activities, other jobs or both. And I know for a fact that one of them hurt himself away from the job but he came in here at his workplace and claimed an accident. He claims he fell," Jaynes said.

Jaynes owns and manages Jefferson City Manufacturing, a tool and die company. Employees at Jefferson City Manufacturing are subjected to many potential work-related hazards, but Jaynes said there have been relatively few injuries in the last two years at his plant.

"Last year my worker's compensation premiums increased $20,000 over the previous year's premiums...what ever happened to the day when there is a certain amount of risk involved when an employee goes to work some place?" Jaynes said.

Similar questions are being raised at the Capitol by business leaders and their lobbyists who warn of skyrocketing cost of worker's compensation insurance.

They have called on the state legislature to revise the program that covers the medical and rehabilitation costs of workers injured on the job.

Supporters claim that fraud has driven the annual total cost to Missouri business for worker's compensation insurance from less than $200 million to more than $800 million in the last decade.

"Worker's compensation has gotten out of hand," said Sen. Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County, who has sponsored a worker's compensation package backed by business.

"We've had continuous increases in prices in costs of worker's compensation insurance and the effect is that Missouri is relatively less competitive in the market place...when the economy is good, Missouri will be on the bottom end of states that will get new development and growth and when the economy is bad, Missouri will be towards the front end in terms of having layoffs." Flotron said.

Flotron's proposes three primary provisions through the bill he is sponsoring.

@|The bill would better define who is legitimately involved in the system and therefore compensable. The woman who threw the fan in Johnson's story is an example of someone who wouldn't be compensable. Employees will have to prove that work is more than 50 percent responsible for their injury.

@|Permanent, long-term disability payments would need to be supported by objective medical findings. Flotron said employees with soft-tissue injuries to the back, for example, are currently receiving substantial settlements without providing concrete evidence that they have been permanently injured.

@|The bill would raise the overall standard of proof necessary for covering worker's compensation claims.

Flotron said the implementation of these provisions will help restore the worker's compensation system.

"What has unfortunately happened is the system that was designed to be nice, neat, clean and simple and quick and efficient..has become very expensive." Flotron said.

Duke McVey, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, opposes the bill. McVey predicted employers would regret it if the law is changed and employees would reap little benefit.

"Redefining the law and cutting off benefits to many injured workers is more likely to create an even greater flood of involvement by attorneys," McVey said.

Senate Labor Committee Chairman Bill Clay, Jr., D-St. Louis, said officials from the Worker's Compensation Division and labor organizations testified that businesses simply need to shop around for cheaper insurance prices.

"We should not lose sight of the people that this law is supposed to protect and that's the worker," Clay said.

"If we tighten it in such a way that their benefits are reduced or they stand less likely of a chance of being fully covered then we have done a disservice to working people which I will not take part in and don't want anything to do with," Clay said.