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The rights of injured workers are once again under attack from the Insurance industry, the Chamber of Commerce, and the elected officials in Tallahassee who seem to care more about getting re-elected and collecting campaign contributions than passing a workers compensation law that is fair to the workers of the state of Florida. The following is an editorial article recently published in the Daytona Beach News Journal. … “When a worker is injured on the job, both the worker and the employer benefit from having those injuries treated promptly and effectively. That, in a nutshell, is the rationale behind workers compensation insurance.
But the insurance companies that make a healthy profit from workers compensation policies benefit most by delaying and denying benefits. They have steadily pushed for regulation that makes it easier for them to say no when a claim is presented, and demanded hefty rate increases whenever legislation or court rulings promised to benefit workers or employers. What’s puzzling is that the state’s big business lobbying groups — who are supposed to be concerned about the interests of all Florida employers — have instead thrown their lot in with the insurance companies, pushing for legislation to increase the profits that insurance companies are able to squeeze from businesses’ premiums while decreasing the protection those companies’ workers are receiving. As a result, Florida’s workers’ comp insurance companies claim an average profit above 30 percent.
This year is no different. Members of the Florida House — acting at the behest of Associated Industries of Florida and other big-business lobbying groups — are pushing through a bill that would undermine the rights of injured workers to contest denials of their claims, by drastically reducing the amount their attorneys can be paid.
The bill is in response to an October ruling by the state Supreme Court in the case of a Charlotte County nurse, who was injured while lifting a patient in 2003. The company that sold workers compensation coverage to the hospital where Emma Murray worked vigorously disputed her claim, despite an independent medical examiner’s opinion that Murray was entitled to benefits. The insurance company paid more than $16,000 in attorneys’ fees fighting a claim that a judge of worker’s compensation claims found was worth $3,244 in benefits — and then turned around and argued that Murray’s attorneys were entitled to only $685.
That sum, which worked out to a little more than $8 an hour for Murray’s attorneys, was so patently ridiculous that the Supreme Court punched a hole in the state law that capped attorneys’ fees for lawyers representing injured workers.
After the ruling, the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which represents all workers’ comp insurance companies in Florida, immediately demanded a 6.4 percent increase in insurance rates. That move was clearly intended to panic state lawmakers and business groups, and it worked. Two major House committees approved legislation that would buttress the caps on attorneys’ fees. Those caps would reduce the chances that workers like Murray — who suffer injuries that are significant, but not career-ending — won’t get the treatment they need to get back to work.
Gov. Charlie Crist has expressed mild approval of the House bill, telling The Miami Herald that he “like(s) less expensive insurance.” But that simplistic analysis misses the point. Lower rates are great, but businesses also deserve insurance that actually protects their workers.
If the Legislature is serious about lowering rates, it has another option. Stephen Alexander, who heads the state’s Office of Consumer Advocate, has recommended that the National Council on Compensation Insurance — which he accurately describes as a “cartel” — be banned from filing rate-increase requests in Florida on behalf of individual carriers. The NCCI’s all-or-nothing approach is keeping workers comp rates artificially high in Florida, Alexander wrote in two reports released last fall.
If groups like Associated Industries and the Florida Chamber were serious about lower insurance rates for the businesses they claim to represent, they should have pushed hard for Alexander’s recommendations to become law. Instead, the two reports have been virtually ignored, while big-business groups backed legislation to legally hamstring injured workers and deny companies the coverage they are paying for.
The groups purporting to speak for Florida’s employers have been co-opted by the insurance-company cartel. It’s up to lawmakers to see through the hype, and write laws that ensure companies pay a fair rate for coverage that actually protects their workers. ” If you are tired of the insurance industrys’ attacks on the rights of injured workers in Florida, feel free to contact your local legislator and express your concerns. If you need experienced and qualified legal help regarding a workers compensation matter anywhere in the state of Florida, contact Colling Gilbert Wright & Carter.