Gov. Scott Walker is proposing structural changes in the state's Worker's Compensation program that some advocates fear could reduce the quality of services.
The State Journal first reported the possible changes last week. According to a memo from an insider, the proposal would result in “drastic” changes in Wisconsin’s well-regarded system for compensating workers for medical costs and lost wages for on-the-job injuries.
Billed as part of Walker's reform of state government, the Worker's Compensation Division would be removed from the Department of Workforce Development. Most employees would move to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance while administrative law judges who decide cases would move to the state Department of Administration.
According to a summary of the budget Walker's office provided, the changes are intended to "capitalize on existing expertise in insurance and adjudication." The net result would be a reduction of five full-time employees.
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An unsigned memo by someone familiar with the proposal and obtained before the budget was released said the proposal will “clearly have a negative impact on our stakeholders.”
Among the changes the memo outlined would be allowing companies and injured workers to reach their own settlements. Currently, such deals must be approved by one of the department’s administrative law judges. In addition, the memo stated that judges would no longer be available to answer questions from the public, injured workers, employers and insurance companies and instead focus only on rendering decisions in contested cases.
Fitchburg attorney David Weir, who has been representing injured workers in Wisconsin for 30 years, said the proposed changes would not save state taxpayers money since the program is fully funded by business.
"It breaks up a nationally regarded Worker's Compensation Division, to the detriment of injured workers, employers and insurers alike," Weir said. "Just why would Gov. Walker mess with system we should be proud of -- it cannot be rationally explained."