WASHINGTON, D.C. | November 17, 2010 -
Today nearly every American worker is covered by a system of workers’ compensation. Disability benefits are available in the event of an illness or injury that occurs on the job to help replace lost wages and cover the cost of medical care when an individual is unable to return to work. For many workers and their families, workers’ compensation is a critical lifeline during a very difficult time.
Workers are considered disabled if they are unable to work or are only able to work at a limited earnings level as the result of an injury or illness. It may sound like a simple concept, but as any worker can tell you, the reality of workers’ compensation is anything but simple. With an economy as diverse as ours, it is no surprise that there are varying definitions and degrees of disabilities with their own sets of rules and levels of compensation applied in different ways depending upon the industry and workplace.
For example, a software engineer and a construction worker with the same injury face different challenges in performing their jobs. An engineer with a broken ankle may be fit to return to work, while the construction worker may spend months away from the job site.
The complexity of workers’ compensation is why in most cases states and the federal government rely upon the expertise of the American Medical Association. Since 1958, the AMA has provided medical professionals and policymakers with a guide to evaluate and quantify impairment. The AMA guide is an important part of the process to ensure injured workers get the assistance they need and taxpayer resources are spent appropriately.
The AMA’s guidance is periodically updated to ensure workers’ compensation systems reflect the latest advances in medicine, science, and technology. Perhaps a particular injury or illness that rendered an individual disabled twenty years ago can be overcome today thanks to a new medical device or therapy. I look forward to hearing the testimony of Mr. Uehlein who will address the AMA’s most recent guides.
Another issue we will look at today is the interaction between workers’ compensation and the Social Security Disability Insurance program, and whether a decrease in demand for one program leads to an increase in demand for the other. Again, while not squarely in this committee’s jurisdiction, the information should help provide members with a clearer picture of the disability assistance available to workers.
Today, we are discussing a complex issue that has the potential to affect millions of workers at some point in their careers. We all want to see workers get the care and assistance they and their families need in the unfortunate event that an illness or injury occurs. State and local authorities, working closely with knowledgeable professionals in the medical community, are responsible for operating these systems and we appreciate this opportunity to learn more about their efforts on behalf of our nation’s workers.