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Report calls for federal oversight of workers' compensation

Kentucky residents likely know that most workers' compensation programs are administered by the states and not the federal government. Changes made to these programs by legislators in more than 30 cash-strapped states have been widely criticized by worker advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers, and the Department of Labor says in a 2016 report that federal oversight is called for to prevent injured workers from falling into poverty.

The issue began to receive more attention after the nonprofit news organizations ProPublica and NPR published accounts of injured workers losing their homes or being denied medical treatment. The DOL report concludes that a fundamental change in approach is called for to tackle the system's inadequacies. The agency proposes that a set of basic standards be established by the federal government that lawmakers in all states would be required to meet.

The DOL is also calling for the reestablishment of a commission originally set up in 1972 during the Nixon administration. The commission set minimum workers' compensation standards for states and prompted Congress to act when these obligations went unmet. While unions and labor groups will likely welcome the report, several trade groups, insurance companies and large employers have been vocal critics of any federal involvement in state-run workers' compensation programs.

Rising insurance premiums are a serious concern for many employers, and this may lead them to contest workers' compensation claims. They may argue that the injuries suffered by workers are being exaggerated, were preexisting or are not job related, and claimants may be asked to appear at workers' compensation hearings to answer these allegations. Attorneys with experience of these tactics may advocate on behalf of injured or sick workers during these proceedings, and they could also help them to gather the evidence that will be needed to argue their cases.

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