House subcommittee hearing examines workers' compensation issues

Prompted by recent "disturbing national trends," a Congressional subcommittee on Wednesday examined state-run workers' compensation programs and their effect on injured workers.

For about 20 years, changes in state workers' comp laws have resulted in stricter eligibility requirements for injured workers, as well as a reduction in both amount and duration of benefits, according to Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chair of the Education and Labor Committee's Workforce Protections Subcommittee. As a result, costs have shifted from workers' comp programs to Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance and private health insurance.

In her introductory comments, Woolsey also took aim at the American Medical Association's "Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment." The most recent edition of the Guides has "dramatically" reduced the impairment ratings for many types of conditions, Woolsey said.

The Guides is a system determining impairment of medical functionality, and is not synonymous with disabilities and loss of wages, according to the testimony of W. Frederick Uehlein, chairman of the Framingham, MA-based Insurance Recovery Group.

Emily Spieler, dean of the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, warned committee members that an increasing number of state workers' comp programs are using the Guides' impairment ratings as a proxy for rating disability.

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