A recent series of reports from NPR and ProPublica addressed dramatic variances in worker’s compensation benefits and access to medical care from one state to another. At the heart of the worker’s comp benefits disparity is each state’s system of assigning monetary value to body parts. For example, in Georgia, an amputated arm is considered a catastrophic injury, and worth up to $118,000. However, in Alabama, that same injury is considered a partial disability, and worth only $49,000. The report also showed that states have steadily cut back on injured worker benefits for the past decade in order to reduce costs and become more attractive to businesses that are starting up or relocating their operations.
While these reports illustrate some obvious flaws in America’s worker’s compensation system, the approach to solving them is simply wrong.
It could be argued that this trend is wrong because it breaks an important social covenant between people, their employers and the state, but that argument is complex and flammable.
To me, the most troubling aspect of this trend in worker’s compensation is its focus on cost rather than cause. Focus should be placed on the root cause of workplace injury—which is the design of the workplace, its processes and its equipment. If we remove or reduce the financial burden placed on states, insurers and employers for injuries, we remove the economic motivation to design and maintain safer work environments.