As expected, the Arizona House Banking and Industry Committee of the legislature voted 5-1 along party lines (with Rep Miranda out of the room) to move House Bill 2617 forward. The bill would allow carriers and injured workers to enter into "full and final" settlements of workers compensation claims. As I detailed in an earlier post, the lifetime right to reopen has always been one of the special parts of the Arizona Workers Compensation Act. This bill would essentially do away with the right to reopen in those cases that are settled.
On its face, the bill sounds good for injured workers - why shouldn't they be able to bargain away their rights if they think they are given good value? But in reality, it takes advantage of their naivete and places the future burden of their medical care on the taxpayers. Realistically, how can an unrepresented injured worker know what the likelihood of the need for future medical care is in their case? How can they know what that is worth? What is to keep an unscrupulous insurance carrier from paying one of their whore doctors (yes, there are some) to say that there is no need for future medical and giving the injured worker an extra $1,000.00? The reality is that many injured workers, who may have been out of work for months or years and need the extra money, will shortchange themselves for the quick nickel. Then 10 or 20 years down the road, when they need that additional back surgery or a knee replacement, who will be left holding the bag? Not the insurance carrier - they will have settled it out. The answer is the taxpayers, those paying for AHCCCS and Medicare. But the Arizona legislature has become quite good at kicking the can down the road this year.
It is very telling that the committee did not bother to seek input from the Industrial Commission of Arizona, the very state agency that regulates on the job injuries!!! We wouldn't want stakeholders' input, would we?
Snow, Carpio, and Weekley are workers compensation attorneys who has represented thousands of injured workers at the Industrial Commission of Arizona. He can be reached in Phoenix at (602) 532-0700 or in Tucson at (520) 647-9000.