ABQ Journal Editorial: NM Legislature needs to save workers’ comp, again

Below  is an editorial from this morning’s Albuquerque Journal concerning the status of the workers’ compensation system in New Mexico.  This is an issue that affects all businesses in the state, and is one that NMHBA has been discussing with legislators around the state when delivering the political contributions from our political action fund.

Melanie Lawton Government Affairs Director 5931 Office Blvd. NE #1 — Albuquerque, NM 87109 Ph. 505-344-7072  800-523-8421 www.nmhba.org

Editorial: NM Legislature needs to save workers’ comp, again
In September 1990, the Legislature convened for an important and productive special session to save the state’s workers’ compensation system by weaving together protections for employees and employers alike.
It only took 14 years for the courts to poke enough holes in the reform as to make it much less effective and ultimately unsustainable.
Albuquerque attorney Marshall Martin pointed out in his column, Marshall’s Law, published in Monday’s Business Outlook, that recent rulings from the New Mexico Supreme Court and Court of Appeals mean:
• There is no cap on “temporary total disability.”
• A temporarily disabled worker who is accommodated with a different job and then fired for cause can then resume temporary and later permanent benefits.
• An undocumented worker can get full benefits when he/she doesn’t return to work after recovering from an injury because his/her immigration status precludes working legally in the country.
• A retired union employee receiving a pension can get permanent benefits for not returning to work at his unionized employer because doing so would affect pension payments.
It gets worse. The system forces an employer to take full responsibility for disability benefits for workers whose drug or alcohol abuse contributed to their work-related accident and to pay benefits to convicted criminals while they are in prison. The growing problem of pain medication abuse has been ignored.
Meanwhile, a court ruling this May has an employer and its insurer paying for medical marijuana for a worker who suffered a job-related back injury and can no longer work due to a permanent partial disability.
It should come as no surprise that all this is showing up in higher costs at a time the employers are struggling to stay afloat.
Builders Trust of New Mexico – a self-insurance fund that provides workers’ compensation for the construction industry – points out that “workers’ compensation insurance premiums for New Mexico are increasing 4 percent for 2014. This is the sixth-highest increase in the nation. Premiums are decreasing for 19 states at the same time. The cost of insurance is driven by the cost of claims, and our claim frequency is 20 percent higher than the national average.”
To bottom line it: Higher payouts mean higher premiums, and higher premiums mean more businesses shut their doors, others decide not to locate here while others trim their payrolls.
It’s hard to believe this is what state lawmakers had in mind 14 years ago when they put their lives on hold and headed to the Roundhouse to fashion a better system to protect both injured workers and the employers paying their benefits.
New Mexico’s citizen legislators – folks who run businesses, work for businesses and have taken it upon themselves to do the public’s business – were able to find common ground on workers’ comp in September 1990. It’s important for them to do that again if we want more people working in a more vibrant economy.