We Montanans are known for our toughness.
Come hell or high water, we’ll get the job done.
Naturally, working hard means we get hurt from time to time. We work through the scrapes and bruises, but some injuries just can’t be ignored.
When the worst accidents happen, we rely on Workers’ Compensation Insurance to heal our wounds, help pay for life’s necessities, and get us back to work. Workers comp insurance isn’t cheap, and premiums have risen so high in recent years that many small businesses have had difficulty hiring workers.
Nowadays, the insurance that helps us get back on the job makes it harder for us to find a job.
That’s a serious problem. Montana’s Legislature is trying to fix our workers' comp problem, and we have two options before us.
On one hand, we have a proposal from the Labor Management Advisory Council, a group that studied work comp over the last four years and produced a thorough and effective plan to
reduce costs. On the other hand, we have a bill from House Republicans that would slash millions of dollars in worker benefits.
The differences between the two options couldn’t be clearer:
• The House Republicans’ bill would revoke your right to choose your doctor and give insurance companies sole control. The LMAC proposal preserves options for injured workers.
• The House Republicans’ bill would give doctors and specialists a pay raise at the expense of hard-working Montanans. The LMAC proposal controls payments to providers.
• The House Republicans’ bill would do nothing to help people get back to work for six weeks after their injury. The LMAC proposal provides services to help injured workers get back on the job as soon as they are able.
• The House Republicans’ bill could cut off workers from medical assistance after five years, whether or not they can get back on the job and make a living. The LMAC proposal sets up a panel of medical experts to review cases as they approach the five year mark and determine if disabled workers need to stay in the work comp program.
For every dollar we spend in work comp, 75 cents go to medical providers and only 25 cents go the injured worker. Squeezing workers hard enough will eventually extract some savings — that fact is the basis for the House Republicans’ bill — but wringing $180 million out of workers requires a downright brutal grip.
We can’t expect providers to lose money and potentially their business providing care for workers, but they do have to share responsibility for the quagmire we’re in.
Workers' comp is meant to serve workers, not doctors and insurance companies. The House Republicans’ bill makes work comp look more like doctors’ comp. The LMAC proposal would share the burden more evenly, making it the best option for fixing our work comp problem.
(Rep. Chuck Hunter is a Democrat from Helena. State Sen. Sen. Jim Keane is a Democrat from Butte.)