On September 28th, 2011, the Obama administration and 26 states filed appeals to a lower court ruling that struck down a provision of the Affordable Care Act (the Obama health care law) that required every American to have health insurance.
The Supreme Court is widely expected to rule on the appeal this fall, and its ruling may put the workers’ compensation system in jeopardy.
Dismantling the workers’ compensation system would make it much more difficult for the vast majority of workers with injuries to receive compensation.
The workers’ compensation system is a mandatory insurance system which makes receiving compensation for a work-related injury simpler, faster and more certain than relying on the courts. Workers’ compensation makes it easier for all workers to get money for treatment of work-related injuries, since they don’t have to go to court to get it. It also limits the amount of money that the most seriously injured workers can receive.
If the Supreme Court decides that it is unconstitutional for the government to force all Americans to purchase health insurance, free market advocates (such as libertarians, conservative Republicans, or Tea Party members) could use this to challenge the constitutionality of the workers’ compensation system, which forces all employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance.
Dismantling the workers’ compensation system would make it much more difficult for the vast majority of workers with injuries to receive compensation. However, this might also allow the most seriously injured to get more money than they do today.
For example, recently in North Carolina a 17 year-old employee was pulled into a wood chipper and chopped up like mulch. Safety guards had been removed from the machine and the employer was cited by OSHA for numerous safety violations. Under the workers’ compensation system, the employer could not be sued in civil court — insurance proceeds were the only source of compensation. The family of the deceased employee was granted a mere 400 weeks of compensation at an extremely low weekly rate. In the absence of a workers’ compensation system, the family could have sued the employer in civil court, leaving the question of adequate compensation for a jury, not a schedule in an insurance manual, to decide.
The fact of the matter is, if Obama’s Affordable Care Act is upheld, it wouldn’t be the first time that the government has forced companies to provide insurance for people. The constitutionality of mandatory insurance has been challenged in courts and upheld at the highest level. For more on this, check out our next Monday’s follow-up post.