Vilification Of The Comp Claimant

KUFM Commentary July 29, 2014

How often have you heard someone say something nasty about an injured worker? Was she accused of fraud? Did they suggest that she was faking her injury?

Those are some of the insults facing injured workers in Montana.

Hi, I’m Tom Murphy.

I’m an attorney from Great Falls, and I represent injured workers against insurance companies.

Worker’s compensation is not a government program.

Worker’s compensation is insurance, and there are over 600 companies licensed to provide it in Montana.

Unlike other insurance, there’s no watchdog at the Commissioner’s office alerting us to dangerous benefit reductions.

Instead, we rely solely on the Montana Legislature for protection.

Today, I invite you to think about this question: Why do we add insult to injury?

Why do employers treat injured workers poorly?

We would never dream of calling a wounded veteran a fraud, so why do we allow insurers to accuse our neighbors?

After their injury, most injured workers are immediately judged.

Before their injury, they thought workers compensation would take care of them, but that was a false sense of security.  

Overnight, co-workers turn against them, and they say mean things like, “Sam got hurt – he should toughen up.”

Obviously, Montana workers are tough, and that’s a tough line, but it’s wrong. 

Montana workers are not invincible. Our workers fall off roofs, they have serious accidents, and they are hurt by dangerous machinery.

When a worker gets hurt, it hurts more if a neighbor calls him a “fake.”

Where does the incentive to mistreat injured workers come from?

After 30 years as a lawyer, I conclude that it’s about money.

In the worker’s compensation system, the insurer is an unsympathetic adversary

Insurance companies hire private investigators to follow injured workers around town.

They may even record her activities in her backyard

Insurance companies hire nurses to meet with doctors to try to turn the doctor against the injured worker

And that’s only if the injured worker gets to pick her doctor.

Since 2011, the law gives the insurer the power to pick the doctor.

Guess which doctor they pick –  the “hired gun” doctor.

These doctors work for insurance companies.

For about a hundred years, they’ve been called “company doctors.”

These are the doctors that used to work for the Anaconda Company.

They would say things like “Joe’s not hurt,” or “Joe doesn’t need surgery.”

The insurance companies fly these doctors all over the state, and they pay some of them hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

That’s how valuable the company doctors are to the insurance companies.

During the 2011 legislature, insurers proposed the law that allows them to pick the doctor. The insurance companies said the law could save $54 million dollars each year.

I call this the “$54 million dollar lie.”

The insurers say the company doctor will be able to reduce medical costs by 54 million.

That either means that the doctors before were lying about the worker’s need for medical care,  or  it means the company doctor will lie about how much medical attention is required now.

Workers’ compensation cases are physician driven.  That means the doctor makes the ultimate decision about benefits and medical treatment. 

Does Montana really want the insurance companies to pick the doctor?

In addition to picking doctors, the insurer is now allowed to close medical treatment at five years.

Where do the severely injured go for medical treatment after five years?

Many injured workers end up on government programs like Medicaid or Medicare.

In that equation, the worker’s compensation insurer shifted its financial obligation to the public.

According to this law, the public must pay for the cost of medical treatment.

Is it fair that the insurer was paid to take the risk, but after it got paid, now asks the public to front the bill?

Most of us think that there’s a government agency that cares for injured workers, but that is not true.

Too often, injured workers lose everything after their injury. They lose their houses, their credit, and many are severely depressed.  

We don’t like to think about people getting injured, but please try to support the worker who was hurt while trying to make a living for his family?

Please do not allow the insurers to foster the judgmental belief that injured workers are frauds, fakes, and money grubbers.

Montana should be concerned about such judgment, because this could happen to you, to your son, or to your daughter.

In October, I’ve been asked to speak at a national conference of worker’s compensation attorneys.

I’m supposed to explain why Montana allows insurance companies to close medical coverage.

My answer is greed, but the question should cause concern.

The whole country is asking why Montana allows insurance companies to close medical care for injured workers, so with your help I hope Montana asks that question too.

This is Tom Murphy.

I’m an attorney from Great Falls, and I represent injured workers.

Thank you for listening.

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