LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Injured workers beware.
The brainchild of Florida State Senator Keith Perry (R) Gainesville could add more misery to your life.
If you’re hurt on the job, Florida’s workers’ comp system is designed to put benefits into your hands without delay.
Injured workers like Neil Eckelberger of Lakeland won’t benefit from Senate bill 1636 submitted by Senator Perry.
“I would call it about the most hostile legislation you could probably propose,” Neil’s attorney, Michael Winer, said.
Neil suffered severe burns and other injuries in an explosion at work in Sept. 2017.
He has fought his employer’s workers’ comp carrier, Travelers, ever since for timely and quality medical care.
“I’ve been abused. I’ve been sitting here for the last year since my burns have healed chasing my tail,” Neil explained.
He was forced into hiring an attorney. Winer filed several petitions for benefits, asking for better care.
Senator Perry’s bill allows insurance companies 45 business days to respond to requests like Neil’s.
“That means 62 days that an injured worker is going without medical benefits or lost wage benefits that he needs,” Winer said.
The Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance will hear the bill Monday.
The committee is compromised of:
- Senator Doug Broxson (R)-Pensacola
- Vice Chair: Senator Darryl Ervin Rouson (D)-St. Petersburg
- Senator Jeff Brandes (R)- St. Petersburg
- Senator Joe Gruters (R)- Sarasota
- Senator Tom Lee (R)- Brandon
- Senator Keith Perry (R)-Gainesville
- Senator Annette Taddeo (D)-Miami
- Senator Perry E. Thurston, Jr. (D)-Fort Lauderdale
“I’m sure there will be amendments filed and so I’ll wait until I see over the weekend and see what the amendments are filed,” Senator Brandes explained.
Efforts to contact Senate President Bill Galvano (R)-Bradenton were unsuccessful.
What this bill doesn’t address is allowing injured workers the right to choose their doctors.
“There is already provisions in the law that allows a claimant to pick another doctor if they’re not happy with the one they are assigned,” Senator Perry assured.
“Senator Perry is woefully uninformed about the intricacies of the workers’ compensation law,” attorney Winer pointed out.
Insurance companies choose who injured employees see for medical treatment and where.
An injured worker can ask for a different doctor only once. If the insurance company does not respond within five days, the employee can make a selection.
After release from Tampa General Hospital’s burn unit, Travelers refused to send Neil to the specialists that TGH referred him to.
Instead, Travelers sent Neil to a walk-in clinic for follow up care.
“Well look, if you’re going to be the carrier paying for that, then the carrier has some discretion over who you should see,” Senator Perry stated.
Winer asks, why?
“Your health insurance carrier pays for your medical care and they don’t get to pick who you see. Same is true for PIP in auto cases. His [Perry’s] logic is faulty,” Winer argued.
Perry’s bill also caps, at $150 an hour, fees an injured worker’s attorney can charge. It does not limit the amount insurance companies can pay their lawyers.
“Politicians, we talk about middle class working class families getting squeezed,” Senator Perry said.
“Workman’s comp alone is one of the biggest driving factors in that.”
Winer contends that is just not true.
“I guess he forgot the part about how workers’ comp rates are at a historical low. It’s a shame that someone so ignorant of the problem is entrusted with the weighty responsibility of enacting laws to govern us all,” Winer argued.
“There’s no problem that needs to be fixed when it comes at the expense of injured workers like Neil Eckelberger.
Fees for an injured worker’s attorney are only due when an insurance carrier wrongfully denies benefits.
“So really what the bill does, and it does it in a very sneaky and very nefarious way, is it tilts the playing field, grossly in favor of the insurance companies and against the injured workers,” Winer said.
8 On Your Side will let you know how your state senators voted on this issue.
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