04/15/05 — Interesting: Workers’ benefits getting attention

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Interesting: Workers’ benefits getting attention

Some interesting proposals surfaced in Raleigh recently.

One, a bill introduced by Sen. David Hoyle, would make substantial changes in the state’s worker’s compensation program.

For one thing, it would limit to 10 years an employer’s obligation to pay medical costs and two-thirds of weekly salaries for employees hurt on the job. After the 500-week period, the burden of supporting the worker would be on Social Security.

Hoyle also would like to make an employee injured on the job ineligible for worker’s compensation if tests proved the worker was drunk at the time of the injury.

The bill has some of the state’s most effective lobbying groups on opposite sides of the issue. Many lawyers are opposed to the changes, contending businesses and industries want to shirk their obligations out of greed.

Business spokesmen argue that the existing law gives workers more incentive to stay home than to work and that worker’s comp has become a “de facto” retirement system for too many people.

Sen. Hoyle says that was never the intention of the worker’s compensation program.

Among other things, his bill would require injured workers to accept jobs that are within their capabilities that might be offered by their employers.

Worker’s comp payments for people suffering totally disabling injuries such as loss of sight or limbs would continue for life rather than be cut off after 500 weeks under Hoyle’s proposal.

The other interesting proposal surfacing in Raleigh recently was from Jack Walker, the retiring administrator of the state employees health plan.

Never the favorite of state workers, Walker suggested that the state end its policy of providing free life-time medical benefits to state employees who complete at least five years of service.

Certainly that is a level of benefit no private business or industry could ever match. And it could create an astounding burden for the state that could be compounded every time an employee with five years service — regardless of age — left the ranks of state workers.

The issues are certain to add spice to the already hot agenda over which our legislators are presiding this session.


Published in Editorials on April 15, 2005 10:20 AM