Under the current workers' compensation program, when a person is partially disabled from a job-related injury, he or she can receive benefits for up to 300 weeks, or about 5.5 years. If classified as fully disabled, an individual would never have to go back to work.
Some lawmakers say this is leading to abuse and it is time for it to stop.
Raleigh resident Kay Brown said a fall at work four years ago, not only hurt her physically, but financially as well.
"I lost my home," Brown said. "I had to move in with my son, I had to file bankruptcy, so it has destroyed me."
Brown was among hundreds of disabled workers who came from all over the state to urge lawmakers not to cut workers' compensation benefits.
The proposed Senate bill would cut benefits for people such as Brown after 500 weeks, or just under 10 years. It would also cut benefits for most people at the age of 65.
Gaston County Sen. David Hoyle said he is not trying to deny benefits for legitimate job-related injuries, but said that workers' compensation was never intended to be a retirement system. He said he believes thousands of people abuse the system every year.
"With workers' comp, you can get two-thirds of your pay tax-free, and there's no incentive to go back to work," Hoyle said.
Hoyle points to national statistics, which show 10 percent of all workers' compensation claims have some element of fraud.
The state's industrial commission, which oversees the workers' compensation program, wants to double the size of its fraud unit to weed those cases out and ultimately bring down costs.
Commission Chairman Buck Latimore said the goal is to strike a balance that is fair to both businesses and their workers.
"Workers' comp was a compromise to begin with, and the question now -- is the compromise still working?" Latimore said.
Along with a slew of other restrictions,
Senate Bill 984
would also increase benefits for partially disabled workers.
The number of workers' compensation claims in North Carolina has actually gone down over the past 10 years. In 1995 there were just over 86,000 claims. In 2004, that number dropped to just under 60,000.
Experts believe the drop is a result of better safety programs and fewer physical jobs in manufacturing and textiles.
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