Business and industry leaders went head to head with labor representatives on Wednesday over the future of Iowa’s workers’ compensation system.
Business leaders went head to head with labor representatives on Wednesday over the future of Iowa’s workers’ compensation system. Legislation backed by GOP lawmakers will overhaul the future of the system, which states under law that the majority of employers must provide medical or disability payments to workers injured while on the job. The rate Iowa employers pay out to claims has dropped by 4.7 percent over the past year, but the rates averaged over the last several years actually shows an increase of 7 percent.
Kellie Pasche, former House GOP staff turned trial attorney, says it’s crazy for the GOP to be pushing for an overhaul. “A few short years ago we had workers’ compensation legislation before this committee. At that time, House Republicans indicated the system was not broken and nothing that needed to be fixed,” she said, speaking on behalf of the Association for Justice. She adds, “And yet here we are today, basically turning our workers’ compensation system on its head.” Over the years, there has been abuse to the system with workers submitting illegitimate claims, however. The compensation system was created over 100 years ago, yet it’s taken all of this time to review it.
“In just a few years, Iowa has gone from having some of the lowest workers’ comp premiums for employers, the richest benefits in the country for employees,” said Mike Ralston of the Association of Business and Industry. The Association has 1,500 member businesses and 330,000 employees in the state of Iowa. “Now we’re in the middle of the pack with increasing premiums and still some of the richest benefits for employees.” Ralston says that House Study Bill 169 is “fair for employers and employees” and is needed to “ensure the protection of the system and the protection of Iowa’s workers who need benefits from the system.”
Those associated with the state’s Federation of Labor AFL-CIO disagree. They believe the bill will actually decrease the amount of benefits for common workers’ compensation injuries, do away with an employee’s loss of earning power, and discriminate against older workers. Under the bill, it will now be required for a worker’s age to be used when calculating benefit payouts. For those who have the misfortune of becoming disabled due to a job related injury, their benefits would be eliminated altogether at 67 years of age. This is absurd according to those who work in high risk positions, including labor workers, tradesmen, etc., and work in these fields long into life. These are individuals who are at increased risk for acquiring injuries while on the job, and yet, they are seeing their benefits being reduced and even eliminated at a certain point.
Representative Peter Crownie argued the first line of defense is to avoid injuries to workers altogether. But there will still inevitably be injuries, and workers injured on the job deserve benefits regardless of age. He and subcommittee Chairman Gary Carlson ultimately signed off on the bill, initiating the change to the long instituted system.