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Workers' compensation restrictions: creating jobs or hurting workers?

February 20, 2003
By: David Bryan
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 321 SB 347

JEFFERSON CITY - While some lawmakers and business owners in Missouri blame workers' compensation costs for increasing job loss, some say the House bill that would restrict claims not only fails to solve the problem but would hurt workers.

"It is an insult to the intelligence of Missourians by saying that this bill will create more jobs when it makes it more difficult for people to get back to work," said Rep. Rick Johnson, D-St. Louis County, who called the bill "anti-business."

The House gave initial approval Wednesday to the bill, which would reduce what injured workers can claim for workers' compensation.

Under the current law, a worker can receive compensation for any injury or occupational disease where work was "a significant" contributing factor. This bill would require work to be proven "the dominant factor" in determining whether the injury is compensable. Other provisions in the bill would reduce benefits for claims of pre-existing conditions worsened by job strain.

Johnson said that instead of lowering costs for businesses, the bill would in fact increase costs when injured workers are fired and new employees are hired to replace them. In the meantime, he said, injured workers might not be able to return to the work force.

But Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said the existing laws allow abuse of the system, which drives up employers' costs.

"At a time when Missouri is leading the nation in job loss, we can't afford to allow workers' compensation abuse to cost our state additional jobs and keep these critical benefits from workers that truly deserve them," said Dan Mehan, President of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R- Neosho, said that 90,000 Missouri jobs have disappeared in the last two years. He cited high workers' compensation costs as a significant factor.

"Our environment is driving businesses out of this state," Wilson said. He said that by creating a business-friendly environment, Missouri can prevent businesses from leaving the state, thus preventing more job loss.

However, according to the Division of Workers' Compensation, a division of the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the numbers show that Missouri's spending on workers' compensation is the same or less than other states.

A study conducted by the the Division of Workers' Compensation stated that "overall employer premium rates (for workers' compensation insurance) in Missouri compare favorably both within the region and nationwide." The study also stated that Missouri employer premiums for workers' compensation insurance are 26th in the nation.