Workers’ compensation programs were adopted in the US roughly a hundred years ago to protect employees injured in the workplace. These programs were designed to minimize unnecessary litigation, guaranteeing injured workers medical coverage regardless of fault, and in exchange, limiting employers’ losses to certain standards for lost wages, medical treatment, and rehabilitation services. Now, a Texas lawyer is working to reverse a century of progress by dismantling the workers’ compensation system.
“We’re talking about reengineering one of the pillars of social justice that has not seen significant innovation in 100 years,” explains Bill Minick, founder of PartnerSource and enemy of traditional workers’ comp. Minick’s firm helps many companies opt out of workers’ comp by writing their own employee injury compensation plans.
Minick is confident that the employer greed that once led to the horrific employment conditions of the Industrial Revolution no longer exists. “Workers’ compensation systems grew up at a time when employers did not care about their employees,” he said. “Now companies are competing to be a best place to work.”
Unfortunately, Minick’s optimistic view of changing attitudes towards employees turns out in most cases to be untrue. Far from showing “innovation” in their worker benefits, nearly all of the alternative compensation programs prove inferior to traditional workers’ comp.
Texas has always allowed employers to opt out of traditional workers’ comp. Oklahoma passed an opt-out law in February 2014, which was co-written by Minick. He recently teamed up with executives from Lowe’s, Nordstrom and Walmart to campaign for opt-out laws in a dozen more states over the next ten years.
The expansion of the opt-out policy would be highly profitable for Minick. His company PartnerSource represents about 90% of the companies in Oklahoma and 50% of the companies in Texas that have elected to bypass workers’ comp. Moreover, Minick’s wife acts as the medical director for many of the companies he represents, and as such she determines whether or not employees’ injuries are work-related.
An independent analysis of the opt-out plans in Texas and Oklahoma conducted by NPR and ProPublica found that Minick’s alternative plans grant less benefits to injured workers, impose greater restrictions on what is covered, and demonstrate very little consistency between plans. Whereas Walmart’s plan values a severed finger at $25,000, Costco awards $15,000 for the same injury.
We’ve written before about the dangerous prevalence of bacterial infections at hospitals and nursing homes, and yet Brookdale Senior Living, the country’s largest assisted living chain, has a plan that fails to cover the majority of bacterial infections. Similarly, U.S. Foods excludes any sickness or disease from its coverage, “regardless of how contracted.”
Costco does not cover external hearing aids greater than $600. However, the least expensive hearing aid sold at Costco costs $900. Even more egregious, Taco Bell allows their managers to accompany injured employees on doctor visits.
Whereas traditional workers’ comp programs cover lifetime medical care when necessary, Texas opt-out plans only extend for two years, leaving many seriously injured employees without a means to cover their medical bills.
Minick’s business is thriving, however, as he estimates PartnerSource saves companies between 40%-90% in their employee medical compensation.
The cost of Minick’s success? Countless injured workers cheated out of quality medical care. If Minick has his way, millions of more workers will be facing similar hardships in the coming years.
Sources:Berkes, Howard and Michael Grabell, “Dallas lawyer leads push to slash workers’ comp costs — and employee benefits,” The Dallas Morning News, 21 October 2015.
Clayton, Ann, “Workers’ Compensation: A Background for Social Security Professionals,” U.S. Social Security Administration, 2004.