One of the few recent laws passed in Pennsylvania which helped injured workers was the creation of the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF). This fund was designed to be used in cases where the injured worker was employed by someone who (in direct violation of PA law) failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage. The UEGF was designed to provide medical treatment, and lost wages, to those workers who, under the previous system, would be left with no recourse. This, of course, was a saving grace which embodied the supposed “humanitarian objectives” of Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act.
Because the problem of uninsured employers in PA is so prevalent, funds allocated to the UEGF have exhausted at a faster pace than was budgeted. The legislature was then left to decide how best to fix the problem. In an astonishing declaration of indifference to injured workers throughout the State, the Pennsylvania Senate created Senate Bill 1195. Rather than simply replenish the UEGF, and allow injured workers to receive benefits they desperately need, the Senate has elected to simply gut the UEGF to reduce the number of successful claims. This is a truly sad decision being made by those who are supposed to represent us all.
Instead of coming down harder on uninsured employers, and simply reducing claims by reducing the true offenders, the Senate has decided the burden should fall on the injured workers, who are only the innocent victims. First, the worker gets injured, then they get victimized by their employer having no insurance (in violation of Pennsylvania law). It is a double punishment that simply is neither fair nor just.
Specifically, Senate Bill 1195 would:
1) Require injured workers employed by an out-of-state employer to be stuck with using any other state's workers’ compensation plan that does cover that employer/employee. This can cause the injured worker to be stuck with a much less generous system than the one other injured workers in Pennsylvania use.
2) No interest is payable on benefits from the UEGF. Considering one already cannot obtain unreasonable contest or penalties against the UEGF, every claim is litigated to a ridiculous level (because the UEGF has nothing to lose). Therefore, injured workers already face having to wait a year or more to obtain benefits (including medical treatment). To deny interest on top of that is just absurd.
3) The timing restrictions of filing claims, and what triggers the timing provisions, would be tightened. This most directly will make some injured workers simply unable to pursue any claim at all. Considering the timing limits for other injured workers in PA (120 days to provide notice of an injury, then three years to file a claim [potentially even more with the discovery rule]), the limits here of, for example, 120 days to file a claim after notification, is decidedly extreme.
4) The UEGF would be able to establish panel providers for each County, restricting compensable medical treatment for the first 90 days to that panel. Unlike with normal insured employers, however, the injured worker will not be aware of this panel. To believe an uninformed employee will know to look for a panel for the UEGF is just silly.
5) The injured worker will not be able to prove a loss of earnings by his own testimony. Instead, the injured worker needs documentation. Of course, many times the uninsured employer violates laws by paying his or her employees in cash without deductions, so there is no documentation (through no fault of the injured worker). In an astounding twist, the uninsured employer, the one who violated, at least, PA law by failing to have workers’ comp insurance, is able to testify as to wages. It is curious the Senate considers the employer, admittedly breaking the law, as the more reliable source.
6) In case of future budgeting problems, rather than replenish the UEGF, this bill gives authority to the department to unilaterally cut benefits to all beneficiaries under the UEGF.
The combination of all of these changes would essentially make UEGF cases impossible to pursue in Pennsylvania. That means any injured worker who, often unknowingly, works for an uninsured employer risks becoming severely injured and having no recourse at all. This because your elected representatives in the PA Senate appear to value the insurance industry over and above the rights and interests of the citizens.