Democratic Caucus, Part II

Author Subject: Democratic Caucus, Part II
Kay Posted At 22:04:28 05/11/2000
The link I put up on the previous post didn't go live, so here's
the article from the Stateman.

TESTIMONY: Gary Cupp, a fire department paramedic for
11 years until a back injury, testifies before a panel of
Democratic lawmakers Wednesday during a hearing to
learn firsthand of worker grievances about workers’
compensation insurance.
RON COOPER / Statesman Journal

State insurance reforms

A panel hears of workers’ compensation woes.

STEVE LAW, Statesman Journal

Former city firefighter Gary Cupp says he always figured
he’d be taken care of if he got injured on the job.

“Boy was I wrong,” the Stayton resident told a panel of
Democratic lawmakers Wednesday. “And now I’m not
ever able to be a firefighter again.”

Workers’ compensation insurance, dubbed “the Bosnia of
Oregon politics” by Gov. John Kitzhaber, took center
stage this week. Kitzhaber is getting ready to release
proposed workers’ compensation reforms worked out by
a secret delegation of labor and management
representatives. Wednesday, Democrats assembled an
informal hearing to learn firsthand of worker grievances
about the system.

Cupp was one of more than 20 injured workers sharing
their experiences. They complained about having to pay
their own medical costs, being denied disability payments,
and being stalled for months while fighting doctors,
lawyers and insurance companies.

Cupp said he couldn’t make his child support payments.
Judy John of Mehama, denied coverage for hand surgery,
said she turned to food banks to feed her family.

“It’s just clear listening to these people that this is taking a
huge toll. People are left with no recourse,” said Rep.
Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, who led the informal

Since a landmark series of reforms starting in 1990,
Oregon’s workers’ compensation system has reduced
costs for employers by billions of dollars. At the same
time, workplace accidents have dropped while benefits
for those workers with successful claims have risen.

Yet the reforms have succeeded partly by making it
harder to win claims, and many injured workers have
complained they are falling through the cracks. Especially
troublesome for many is a requirement that 51 percent of
an injury must stem from the recent accident and not
from a pre-existing condition. That has allowed insurers to
reject many claims from older workers, who often are left
without their livelihood.

That was a factor in the cases of Cupp and John.

Cupp, 44, was a fire department paramedic for 11 years
until his back wore out from repeated injuries. Ironically,
his ailments stemmed from lifting other citizens with

John helped install window locks in Stayton. Her request
for medical coverage for hand surgery was turned down,
she said.

“I’m angry because I’m being punished for doing a job,”
said John, growing teary-eyed before lawmakers. “One of
the most degrading things I’ve done is I’ve had to go to
welfare to eat and feed my family.”

Some workers getting denied benefits are demanding the
right to sue, but that’s not allowed under the state
workers’ compensation system. If they exhaust appeals
allowed under the system, no other remedies are

That may change, though, depending on how the Oregon
Supreme Court rules in a case brought by injured worker
Terry Smothers.

The looming court decision and continuing grievances
brought by injured workers prompted Kitzhaber to
convene a group of labor and management leaders to
hash out changes to the state law. Those would go before
the 2001 Legislature.

The governor’s staff was not ready to divulge the reforms
Wednesday. However, Rosenbaum said they don’t go far
enough to help people such as Cupp and John with
long-term, repeated health problems.

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