JEFFERSON CITY — A Senate committee considering reducing benefits in Missouri’s workers’ compensation program heard emotional testimony Wednesday from workers who said they felt abandoned by a system one Republican senator called “broken.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, would redefine when workers’ compensation fees are awarded. The proposed legislation would narrow the definition of injury so that a worker could collect benefits only if his or her job is the “prevailing” cause of an accident. It would reduce benefits when an injury worsens a pre-existing condition and eliminate benefits for injuries that happen en route to work and ailments whose cause cannot be determined.
Proponents argue that cutting out undeserving recipients is necessary to drive down costs, which rose 14.7 percent in 2003. The Department of Insurance, however, estimates costs will drop in 2005.
Speaking in favor of the legislation were representatives of a variety of management interests. Business representatives argued that Missouri is losing out to neighboring states because its workers’ compensation costs are too high.
“The employers are telling us it’s out of control,” said Steve Jenkins, president of an economic development organization in Laclede County. “There is no fairness, there is no reasonableness.”
Injured workers gave accounts of a system unable to meet its own standards and urged the committee to write legislation that would fix the system.
“I ask of you to find something that’s suitable for the workers,” said Kevin Lantham, a former truck driver from Blue Springs. “Not the employers, but the employees.”
Lantham said he went without income for four years after workers’ compensation first failed to make the initial payments he was due and then denied his claim. He said he received no compensation until he settled a civil lawsuit.
Sen. Carl Vogel, R-Jefferson City and the committee’s vice chairman, did not expect a vote this week on whether to send the bill to the full Senate.