Over 2,000 injured D.C. government employees go through the Public Sector Workers Compensation Program each year. These benefits are intended to give injured government workers financial security when injured on the job and help them pay for their medical care, rent and other basic necessities. Unfortunately, due to a decade of poor administration and noncompliance, formerly middle-class injured workers have been driven into poverty. Instead of protecting injured D.C. employees, we have allowed thousands of District residents to fall into poverty as a result of their workplace injuries.
In 2004 and 2006, the D.C. Council passed legislation to reduce the time for resolving injured workers’ eligibility, to create penalties for late payments to injured workers, and to codify the preference for an injured worker’s treating physician’s opinion when determining work eligibility over that of a government-designated doctor who had very limited information regarding the claimant’s health condition. These reforms were designed to ensure that injured D.C. employees would not languish without any income while they were unable to do work.
Unfortunately, the FY 2011 budget reversed some of these legislative victories. The Council granted government appointed doctors with limited knowledge of a client’s health condition greater weight in determining work eligibility, reducing the role of treating physicians. The Council also repealed protections for workers that suffered mental trauma, allowed workers to be lose their benefits even before an Administrative Law Judge has the opportunity to evaluate their side of the story, and capped benefits for injuries that ORM classifies as “temporary” even though they continue for more than 500 weeks. These repeals endangered injured workers’ right to fairly access workers’ compensation and medical treatment for their injuries.
The D.C. Council should act immediately to fix these problems and pass legislation to:
1. Restore the great weight given to the opinion of treating physicians to ensure accurate medical assessments of claimants’ health conditions.
2. Repeal the prohibition of claims for mental stress or emotional conditions or diseases.
3. Restore the availability of disability compensation for workers with injuries that continue for more than 500 weeks, but which ORM classifies as “temporary.”
4. Provide that a claimant who begins to receive compensation will continue to do so until an Administrative Law Judge can hear and decide their case.
5. Improve compliance with Administrative Law Judges’ orders to pay injured workers compensation or for medical services they need by clarifying the penalties that Office of Risk Management owes injured workers when it fails to follow legal orders.