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Did workers’ comp reform help permanently disabled workers?

When California laws undergo change, it can sometimes be immediately apparent if the alteration has benefited the people. Sometimes it can take years for the full impact of a statutory change to be apparent, however.

As you no doubt recall, two years ago California implemented workers’ compensation reform. The state recently issued a report attempting to assess the impact of that reform on both employees and employers.

Our state has had workers’ comp benefits in place for a century, but refinements to the process have repeatedly taken place over those 100 years. In 2012, the state implemented a reform to the system that sought to fix issues that plagued workers and that employers complained about as well.

The state calls workers’ comp a “social bargain” that enables employees to receive both wage replacement and health care for injuries and illnesses arising from their work and it enables employers to limit liability for those damages to workers while also paying the cost of the system.

One of the major complaints employees had about workers’ comp is that permanent disability benefits had been slashed by more than half by a 2004 reform.  

Unfortunately, the state says in its report that it can’t yet determine how well the latest reform has performed for permanently disabled workers. That means there's no clear answer yet to the question of whether the reform has helped those workers.

After all, some of the increased benefits are phased in and disability cases also take 18 months or more to establish as permanent. So the number of those established as permanent since the 2012 reform are few, making the sample size too small to judge accurately.

There are many advocates who argue that further reforms are needed to ensure that workers’ wages and health are protected in the event of injury or illness -- especially permanently disabling conditions. They also point out that when an employer or insurer attempts to deny earned and deserved benefits, people should speak with attorneys experienced in appealing denials.  

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