While Oklahoma and Texas may have rivaling college sports teams, the two states do have one thing in common. Both states passed laws that allow employers to opt out of state regulated workers’ compensation benefit programs. This means both states allow their employers to regulate (ahem, dictate) what types of benefits the employers provide for their injured workers. Like we mentioned in a prior blog, law makers are trying to ensure Tennessee also shares this in commonality with the two opt out states.
Given that both South Carolina and Tennessee are considering legislation to hand over workers’ comp benefits to the whims of employers, NPR recently released a series called Insult to Injury: America’s Vanishing Worker Protections. In this series, NPR reviewed 120 employer injury plans in Texas and Oklahoma that replaced state mandated workers’ comp plans and found a huge difference across the board in the benefits different employers provide for injured workers.
OKLAHOMA VS TEXAS: DIFFERENCE IN WORKERS’ COMP BENEFITS
Oklahoma is fairly new to allowing employers to opt out of workers’ compensation, though Texas has not had state mandated workers’ comp benefits for decades. Both states, ultimately, have fewer benefits and more difficult qualifying standards. More employers fail to comply with state law, however, regulators are unable to do anything to help the workers who suffer.
In Oklahoma, NPR found most benefit plans approved by employers do not comply with state law. For example, Oklahoma law states that employees must voluntarily ask to receive any benefits in lump sum, rather than payments over time. In most OK plans, lump sums are mandatory and employers do not provide payments that extend as long as injured workers need them to. If injured workers protest, employers say they can instead opt not to receive any benefits at all. Moreover, state mandated workers’ compensation allows injured workers up to 30 days to report their injuries. Most OK workers’ comp insurance carriers only allow 24 hours, which allows many injuries to slip through the cracks and go unreported. Most do not receive benefits.
While Oklahoma is new to the opt out club, Texas has been a member for a very long time. Texas workers’ compensation insurance carriers are often fans of capping the amount of benefits given to injured workers. Most benefit plans max out at $250,000, or the two-year mark—whichever comes first. This means injured workers who required continued care after their benefits dry up or for longer than two years may not be able to cover their medical costs. Additionally, most Texas workers’ comp insurance carriers do not provide benefits that cover exposure to asbestos, even though there is an area in East Texas called “Asbestos Alley” with particularly high numbers of illnesses resulting from exposure. Appeals for workers’ comp denials often go through employers, rather than a court.
TENNESSEE OPT OUT PLAN COULD BE THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS
Unfortunately, Tennessee is also moving towards opting out of workers’ compensation benefits. An alternative company to workers’ comp, Partner Source, operates in Texas and Oklahoma as an insurance carrier and consulted with lawmakers when drafting the bill. Lawmakers want to cap off benefits at 156 weeks (three years) unless an employee’s medical expense hits $300,000—whichever comes first. Death and dismemberment benefit payments also won’t exceed $300,000, which sounds a lot like the benefit plans available in Texas. The current workers’ comp program Tennessee covers on-the-job injuries for as long as the injured worker needs them with no expense cap. Allowing businesses to opt out of workers’ comp benefits will ultimately not benefit Tennessee workers in any way and hopefully, this bill will be shut down.
The Law Office of Stanley A. Davis helps those who have sustained a workplace injury, as well as other personal injury victims in Nashville.
“Behold, God is my helper. The Lord is the one who sustains my soul.” Psalms 72:12