New law due for workplace injuries

Guest Editorial
Get injured on the job in Michigan, like other states, and you have financial protection.

The state workers’ compensation system covers relevant medical costs and provides a stream of income, in exchange for the assumption that you won’t run to court to sue your employer.

The principle of workers’ compensation is sound, but the system has major flaws. Michigan businesses pay 82 percent more than in Indiana, a hidden cost that inflates the price the public pays every time it buys a Michigan-made product.

And then there are the horror stories. An employee of Jackson-based Consumers Energy, for example, reportedly received more than 200 weeks of benefits after undergoing knee-replacement surgery, even though he was capable of returning to the job well before that.

Situations like that might be extreme, but they represent a broader problem. Workers’ compensation claims are decided based on an inconsistent record of administrative and court decisions that are completely unpredictable to workers and businesses.

The result is that from case to case, there is no saying whether an individual will qualify for benefits.

The inconsistencies and mounting frustrations are the catalyst behind new legislation in the state House that would give workers’ compensation much-needed reform.

While the particulars of House Bill 5002 are sure to change, it would be unfortunate if lawmakers do not give this system the updating it needs.

State lawmakers should take the premise that workers’ compensation is a lifeline, not a lifestyle. It must continue to cover injuries that arise from the job or happen in the workplace.

Employees absolutely deserve their medical care to be covered and to receive a sufficient flow of income to support themselves and their families while they recuperate.

However, the Legislature can step in to clarify what types of injuries qualify for full benefits, who should qualify and what common-sense standards should be applied.

Essentially, they need to put the brakes on runaway costs, such as the Consumers employee who received benefits for nearly four years. Those who deserve financial help and their medical bills to be covered should turn out just fine if the Legislature passes the right reform package.

In the process, lawmakers can continue their work this year to make Michigan a more attractive state to businesses and an affordable place to live.

They have taken big steps, such as sweeping away taxes for small businesses and smaller ones, like ending the item-pricing law for Michigan’s retailers. They also are looking at giving consumers the option to buy more affordable auto insurance.

Whether it’s because of indecision or apathy, state lawmakers are taking on issues that have been allowed to sit untouched for too long. The workers’ compensation law, for example, is 100 years old and has not been rewritten since the 1980s.

That’s too long for government or business to ignore important issues.