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February 26, 2004     (512) 463-0300
Problems of Injured Workers Examined by Senate Committee

AUSTIN - A Texas Senate committee is examining problems in the Workers' Compensation system. Originally established to see that injured workers get quality medical care, the system has been criticized by doctors, employers and workers alike for many different reasons. This committee is examining the entire status of Workers' Compensation in Texas, including the quality and costs of care, whether patients are having difficulty getting care, patient appeal rights and overall patient satisfaction.

Among those testifying today, attorney Catherine Buchanan told the committee that as far as workers compensation for private business, that "something has to be done", that workers have become skeptical of employer-driven health coverage. Buchanan, who represents injured workers, says that over the past few years the system has deteriorated and that people are indeed having problems getting care. Other witnesses told the committee that when labor and management have an adversarial relationship, workers' compensation costs go up. General agreement was that both have to work together to cut costs and improve care.

Senator Robert Duncan said that employers in Texas who don't have to be in workers compensation are "bailing out of it" due to those very problems as well as rising costs. He said he's concerned that there will be too many regulations and requirements in reform and that we're "afraid to go forward because we don't have consensus". Should that happen, Duncan is concerned the system will continue to shrink. Senator Jane Nelson said that there are a lot of employers who would participate, but that they feel the system is simply too expensive. Chairman Todd Staples said that the Legislature had placed a health care plan for teachers in place within a year and that workers' compensation shouldn't be any different.

The committee is also studying the workers' compensation programs that cover state employees. Ms. Amy Lee from the Texas Department of Insurance, testified that a recent study shows that lower back injuries are the most common injury in the state system and that controlling these are very important. She compared four different workers' compensation programs currently sponsored by the state, describing which ones are doing the best job in controlling costs.

Afternoon testimony centered on actuarial studies and how the state figures its costs. Senators quizzed Ron Josselet, of the State Office of Risk Management, as to why efforts to cut costs hadn't been more successful. Ed Sims, from the Texas Department of Transportation, Phil Dendy from the University of Texas and Kevin McGinnis from Texas A&M University followed, each describing his agency's risk management process and how each handles workers' compensation claims.

The Senate Select Interim Committee on Workers' Compensation is chaired by Senator Todd Staples. Members include senators John Carona, Robert Duncan, Craig Estes, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Kyle Janek, Frank Madla, Jane Nelson and Royce West. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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