AUGUSTA—The Maine Senate GOP voted late in the evening in favor of a measure, LD 1913, that takes away critical benefits to Maine’s most injured workers. The bill as passed caps benefits for almost all injured workers at 10 years, even if their injury still prevents them from returning to work. It also makes it harder for injured workers to qualify for benefits.
“It seems the whole reason for this bill is to get the most injured, the most costly off the system. But I ask, what’s going to happen to them? I can tell you this much, it’s not good for Maine workers,” said Troy Jackson of Allagash, who serves on the Labor, Research and Economic Development Committee.
The Maine Chamber of Commerce and other large, self-insured employers have publicly testified since 1993 that no substantive changes were needed. In 2011, premiums decreased by 7 percent and according to the annual report for the Workers Compensation Board for 2012, the frequency of claims and injuries are down.
“To some, injured workers are disposable commodities. They’re just a statistic,” said Senator John Patrick of Oxford. “Maine’s most severely injured workers don’t deserve being abandoned—and to do so is unconscionable.”
The area of law most effected by the change is Section 213, which impacts “partial incapacity” benefits. The majority of workers’ comp benefits are paid under Section 213. The change will more than double the “permanent impairment” or PI rating required to qualify for long-term compensation for reduced earnings cause by the injury in the workplace. It also requires the Workers’ Compensation Board to annually report annually to cost to employers and PI rating numbers.
“The idea that somehow people are mooching off the system is ridiculous,” said Sen. Phil Bartlett of Gorham. “Would you choose to take a 50 or 70 percent pay cut, lose your house, lose your car?”
Bartlett who is also an attorney representing injured workers added, “There is nobody on comp who wants to be. Injured workers have lost more than their livelihoods. Their lives is forever changed.”
The measure is expected to the House for another vote and is then to return to the Senate for a final vote later.