Honorable Lawmakers,

For seven years now I have come to you asking you to help injured workers and deal with the present day workers compensation system which we all know isn't working. At least not for the injured workers of this state.

At first I looked to you in the legislature in awe, thinking there could be no more noble profession that that of representing the people. I talked with some of you and I actually thought you were listening to me. A few of you were, but not many. Little did I know at that time that the insurance industry was often referred to as "the shadow government" of the State of Florida.

As time passed I found that phrase to be true in many situations. My faith in the legislature slowly began to dwindle as I watched lawmakers cast votes on issues that they knew would hurt the people. Not just in comp but in many other issues.

I remember that I was often told by lawmakers to be careful what I asked for, meaning that a bill in committee (one with the best of intentions) can come out of the legislature totally changed and sometimes without any of the original language in it. Changed so much that none of the good language remained so that the bill had become a bad bill.

During these seven years, one consistent thing I have noticed about the legislature is that they are constantly taking away from those who cannot represent themselves. They cut comp benefits, Medicaid, Kidscare and any other benefits coming from any group of average citizens that they felt could put up the least resistance. In retrospect the poor had become under siege and still are today.

How many more things can you take from the poor?

Let me give you some scenarios:

Scenario 1
A person gets hurt at work. The employer/carrier refuses to accept compensability.

Before 2003:
The injured worker could hire an attorney who would only be paid if the injured worker went to court and won the case. If the injured worker won, it meant the employer/carrier was wrong in denying the benefits due to the injured worker.

Then the brilliant legislature decided the way to cut costs in the comp system was to cut claimant attorney fees but do nothing to the carrier attorney fees.

Tell me now how can you cut costs that you don't have to pay unless you are wrong? In other words the fee is nonexistent unless you wrongfully denied benefits. The obvious answer is to make it more difficult or impossible for injured workers to make claims.

After October 2003:
Attorneys can no longer afford to take on comp cases unless they can quickly reach a settlement or resolve the issues. Workers desparate for a solution frequently find themselves in a position of accepting far less than the law allows in order to get anything at all.

Thus the claimant is left without the representation he needs to gain benefits. Effectively what the legislature did was to take away the only chance the injured workers had of getting legal representation to gain their benefits.

Legal representation would not be necessary if the carriers didn't deny legitimate claims. So instead of dealing with the insurers who were the cause of so much litigation, the legislature made it easier for the carriers to deny and delay legitimate benefits due.

How does any of this make sense? I mean, what were they thinking? No logical mind would come up with this kind of unconstitutional nonsense. The Florida legislature sure did and now it refuses to take it back.

So here we have an injured person who is unable to work, unable to get medical treatment, and who along with the rest of the family is now a burden to society. There is no way the injured worker can afford to pay for representation so his claim just goes away. Now who really benefits here? It sure isn't the injured worker nor the state who will now most likely pick up a lot of the family's expense. Who benefits?

Scenario 2

You were injured on the job and have been sent to all the doctors the carrier has picked for you. You can tell that many of the doctors are bought and paid for. You know some are not treating your injury because they have been told to diagnose but not treat.

Others doctors are willing to treat but can't because the carrier is refusing to pay for the treatment that the carrier's own doctor ordered. Then your carrier decides it doesn't like the diagnosis the doctor came up with (it might cost them money) it sends you on IME after IME (independent medical exam). This is called doctor shopping and carriers claim that claimants do this all the time. Why hasn't anyone ever counted the times the carriers do it?

Because of the IMEs that are not independent at all, you need to have your own IME. The problem is that
after 2003, the carriers no longer have to pay for a claimant IME. Who benefits?   Most IMEs fall in the range $300-$800. The injured worker isn't getting treatment, is unable to work, and isn't receiving indemnity benefits. The injured worker may very likely have absolutely no financial resources beyond what the carrier is supposed to be providing and cannot afford to personally pay for the care that the carrier is supposed to be providing. So he is work-injured and cannot get what he needs to get better. What can he do?

If the injured worker is lucky enough to find an attorney to represent him, he will become entwined in a legal battle that can take anywhere from 6 months to 5 years depending on the part of the state you are in. In the meantime, he will continue to be work-injured, financially stripped and unable to get better. So since you can't afford an IME, the lawyer tells you that you will most likely lose the case.

Boooom. They found another way to make the injured worker's claim go away. Let's ask again, "Who benefits?"

I could go on with many other scenarios for injured workers but I just want to get my point across. In case you haven't gotten it yet, I am telling you that the legislature is consistently voting for things that will make the insurance industry, aka "The Shadow Government" happy. Who cares about a few injured workers? Definitely not the Florida State Legislature. At least not that of the recent past legislatures.

So I ask YOU.
Is the shadow government still alive and well in the state of Florida? Will this legislature continue to ignore the needs of the working person? The needs of those who did nothing wrong but to get hurt at work? A friendly piece of advice: please don't get hurt at work in Florida.

Once again I ask this 2007 legislature to talk with us and do something now about the injustices passed in the 2003 SB 50 A bill. Do the right thing. Seven year has been a long time for me and other injured workers to wait. It is a long time to keep hearing "maybe next session."

Will you help us in this 2007 session? Will you be different from those who have come before you? Will you protect the people that you have taken an oath to protect and serve? Will you honor our hard work and constituency with respect and action?

Help us today.

Think I sound a little bitter? Spend the next 20 years of your life entangled in the workers compensation system and then come back and talk to me.

Sincerely, Mary Bailey

posted April 22, 2007