Investigative news outlet ProPublica partnered with NPR to compile a trove of data about workers compensation laws across the country. Their findings paint a vivid picture of how workers comp – established to ensure injured workers get the medical help they need after getting hurt on the job – has been significantly eroded by state legislatures, and how the scaling back of those benefits has impacted workers.
The series compares the laws state-by-state, detailing how differently people are compensated for injuries depending on where they live. For example, if you lose your arm in a workplace accident in Idaho you're entitled to $113,685. That's $56,000 less than the national average in compensation for the damage to your body and the loss of future wages.
When it comes to states that have cut workers comp benefits, ProPublica and NPR say Idaho is one among many. An interactive graph shows how the Gem State passed a 2005 bill that developed a medical fee schedule, a rule that caps payment to doctors. The law passed without any dissenters, sponsored by former Republican state Sen. John Goedde. The medical fee schedule was put into effect in 2006.
Patti Vaughn is the medical fee specialist with the Idaho Industrial Commission (IIC), the agency that oversees workers compensation issues for the state. Vaughn says the medical fee schedule limits payments to doctors who treat injured workers for specific procedures. But she doesn't agree with ProPublica that this reform has created a barrier for injured workers in Idaho.
"An injured worker in Idaho would still get the reasonable and necessary care that they're entitled to," says Vaughn. "It's just that the treating provider would be limited in how much they could be paid."
She says by creating limits to how much a particular treatment or procedure should cost, Idaho is in line with a number of other states with similar payment caps to providers. When asked if these limitations could mean workers will get turned away by a doctor who doesn't agree with the state's fee schedule, Vaughn says it's "always a concern."
"We're always sensitive to making sure there's adequate access to medical care for injured workers. But our fee schedule is actually one of the high[est] ones in the nation. When we put it together we collaborated with a lot of the physicians and it was set at a level that we believe is comparable or above group health rates."
Vaughn says she makes recommendations about how much the medical treatment should cost, but that it's up to the commissioners leading IIC, and ultimately the legislature, to decide. The three-person commission is appointed by the governor.
Follow Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio