It’s true that worker’s compensation programs were originally created to provide employer-provided insurance reimbursement, comprehensive medical coverage and rehabilitation benefits to employees injured on-the-job, but it doesn’t always work that way. In most cases, the financial burden is placed on injured workers, their families and taxpayer-funded programs.

State governments often make it very difficult for injured parties to get the payments they’re entitled to. Consequently, workers’ compensation payments only cover about 21 percent of lost wages and medical costs of work injuries and illnesses. An overwhelming 63 percent of these costs are borne by workers, their families and their private health insurance, while taxpayers cover the remaining 16 percent.

Many Not Receiving Any Workers’ Compensation

In fact, only a small portion of those injured on the job receive any compensation at all from state worker’s compensation programs. Findings from several studies have revealed that less than 40 percent of eligible parties even apply for workers’ compensation benefits. For example, a BLS-supported analysis of all recordable work-related amputations in Massachusetts found that fewer than 50 percent of the cases received any workers’ compensation benefits. Similarly, a California study found that one-third of workers who had amputations recorded by their employers did not get any workers’ compensation benefits.

The workers’ compensation system clearly has gaps for everyone, but they’re most glaring for low-wage workers. Many of these people have even more trouble filing claims, including added job insecurity, not understanding their rights or a language barrier. OSHA staff members have reported finding that many injured immigrant workers haven’t filed workers’ compensation paperwork, because they’re too afraid of losing jobs they desperately need.

Greater Barriers in Place for Work Illnesses

Very few people with occupational illnesses receive any workers’ compensation benefits at all from the system. One study estimates that as many as 97 percent of workers with occupational illnesses receive zero compensation. Sadly, most cases of work-related chronic disease are never properly classified.

When a connection is made, it’s usually long after the person discontinued their employment with the company. Even in the event that a proper diagnosis is made, most workers use their Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans’ Benefits or private insurance to avoid having to navigate the unpredictable workers’ compensation system.

Check back for the final part of series next month…

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