Lisa Trussell and her propaganda work on behalf of insurance companies

Author Subject: Lisa Trussell and her propaganda work on behalf of insurance companies
Del Posted At 17:21:32 07/03/2000
There are rumors that Lisa Trussell may be put back on the Management-Labor Advisory Committee (MLAC) over the strong objections of labor groups and injured workers. This is the time to let Governor Kitzhaber know that this is unacceptable. Mr. Kitzhaber stated, according to his labor advisor, that he wants to get the right members there to check the system's "fairness thermostat." This is impossible with Trussell there.

Let the Governor know your feelings here.

The Link to Below.

Oregon Considered is OPB Radio's daily news magazine.
You can hear it Monday-Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Preparing for the Ruling

November 9, 1999

In a Springfield union hall, about 100 people have gathered. Some are wearing neck braces or hobbling through the crowd on crutches. Theyíre some of the injured workers at the center of this debate. Billy Washington was injured on the job but workers comp wouldnít cover his medical bills. Washington says he was lucky to have health insurance that paid for a knee replacement while he battled with the workers comp system. He was so frustrated by his experience that he started an advocacy group called Injured Workers United.

Washington: You kick a dog hard enough and enough times, he will bite you. Well now I figure itís my time to bite.

Washington says the workers comp system favors employers over injured workers.

Washington: And you have all these big insurance companies smiling all the way to the bank because their profit margin is going up, up, up. And itís at the expense of the people who are injured.

Outside the union hall, workers comp attorney Chris Moore is sitting on the steps.

Moore: The work comp system, I like to think of it as a pressure cooker. And the pressure is really starting to build. People are getting absolutely screwed by this system. It is a terrible, horrible system for people who are hurt. It doesnít take care of them. Leaves Ďem bitterly disappointed and leaves ruined lives all over the state.

Moore says the ideal workers comp system should be a bargain, struck between employers and employees. The employer promises to buy insurance to pay for workplace injuries, while the employee agrees not to sue. In the end, the system is designed to make sure money goes toward medical bills for injured workers, rather than to attorneys. But a lobbyist with Associated Oregon Industries, who represents employers, says workers have abused the system. Lisa Trussell has heard many examples over the years.

Trussell: An employee who was off work on total, temporary disability and could not return to his employer was roofing his home and fell off the roof. And they decided his injuries sustained from the fall from the roof occurred because of his compensable condition, which, I believe, was a knee that had given outÖ so that became part of the workers comp claim.

Trussell says, since the injury didnít take place on the job, the workerís private insurance should foot the bill. Trussell says a 1990 deal, brokered by then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt solved some problems.

Trussell: The system, before 1990, was an inch deep and a mile wide, meaning anybody could get in and the benefits were very narrow.

But in 1990, labor and business leaders agreed to a system that was narrower and deeper. In other words, it provided better benefits for fewer people. The goal was to stabilize a system that was in crisis during the 1980s when employerís insurance rates were sky high; and it worked. State Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts says businesses around the country considered Oregon a good place to move, because workers comp rates were predictable.

Chris Davie is a lobbyist with Oregonís largest workers compensation insurance company, SAIF Corporation. He says the Smothers case is an indication that things are changing again.

Davie: Over the last few years, and maybe even longer, it hasnít been that stable. And the legislature makes lots of changes to the system. And sometimes thatís needed. And sometimes change seems to be made just for changeís sake. But I think everybody would like some stability set in so we arenít constantly changing the rules and constantly changing the potential cost of the system and the benefits.

Some of those changes Davie refers to came during the 1995 Legislature, when lawmakers made it more difficult for injured workers to get compensation. Both labor and business leaders expect the 2001 state legislature to take up the workers comp issue again. For now, everyone is waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides in the Smothers case. That might take awhile--it could be as long as a year, or more, before the Justices rule.

Jeff Brady, OPB News.

P.S. The story was in error. Billy co-founded "Workplace Injured" with six others.

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