Ontario’s workers’ compensation system under attack, charges former WSIB Chair

Odoardo di Santo In a bluntly worded opinion piece in the Toronto Star (June 27 2014) [read here], former Board Chair Odoardo di Santo details how the fairness and balance at the core of Ontario’s workers’ compensation system are being eroded to save money .

Cost savings to reduce an “unfunded liability” – built up over decades by keeping employers’ contributions (rates) artificially low – are being achieved at the expense of injured workers and Board employees. Under current WSIB president, David Marshall, appointed in 2010 with a $400,000 salary and 20% performance bonus,:

“denied claims increased by 50 per cent. Benefits to injured workers have been reduced by $631 million; the rehabilitation program has been decimated; long-term wage loss benefits have been reduced by 28 per cent; hundreds of WSIB employees have been laid off; and injured workers’ pensions have been reduced by 31.3 per cent….”

The volume of resulting appeals has choked the system and brought unacceptable delays.

Granted unprecedented authority in 2011 by the government to change most policies without Board approval, Marshall is poised to implement a policy on “pre-existing conditions” that will overturn long-standing policy and practice that compensation will be granted if the injury is a significant factor in causing the worker’s disability. In fact, injured workers filing claims already are routinely being warned by the WSIB that their injury may be determined more likely related to natural aging or underlying pre-existing conditions.

In drawing attention to the fact that the Board has no legal authority to deny benefits because of pre-existing conditions, di Santo echoes many responses to the draft policies. And, as the submission of Ontario’s Office of the Worker Adviser cautions, if adopted, these draft policies will be the subject of legal challenges for years to come.

Injured at work – or just ageing?

In March, OHCOW Toronto hosted a forum “Will I still get compensation or am I just too old?”  that addressed the presumption underlying the Ontario Board’s new draft benefits policies – that workers are being compensated for symptoms that are more related to the natural ageing process rather than the work-related accident.

The Office of the Worker Adviser’s presentation (below) on common back injuries in the workers’ compensation context debunks the medico-legal myth of degenerative and pre-existing conditions. It challenges denial of work-related injury compensation based on age or gender, factors which have no legitimacy in a no-fault system based on the Meredith Principles.

OWA presentation on back disability and pre-existing conditions

Click to view presentation

In their presentation, the OWA authors cite the following articles that explore issues of ageing, assessment and causation in New Zealand’s compensation system:

New Zealand’s experience is telling … “The ACC files: Degeneration used as easy way out, says judge” (NZ Herald, Dec. 14, 2010). An outcry over the Accident Compensation Corporation’s “flimsy refusals” of claims because of so-called degeneration, led to an internal review in 2011, with the ACC admitting it had been rejecting too many claims for treatment since introducing a tough cost-saving approach in 2008.

If little has changed in practice since, a leaked internal document prepared for the ACC’s former chief executive, offers an explanation. The report links claims approaches to political cycles. “Depending on what ministers demand, savings or popularity, ACC will adjust its policies to deliver…” (“Your ACC claim: it’s govt policy” – Stuff.co.nz Jan. 19, 2014)

Health outcomes post-injury – researcher wins 3MT award

Rebecca Casey is McMaster University’s new 3MT
People’s Choice Award winner for her three-minute thesis on  “Health outcomes following a work injury”.

A PhD candidate at McMaster’s Dept of Sociology, Rebecca was co-presenter with Peri Ballantyne at the 2013 Meredith Conference, Her entry which won the top online vote in this video contest  compares health trajectories of two sample groups of middle-aged workers, one non-injured and one with work-related permanent impairment. The statistics on their respective physical and mental health conditions after four years were shocking – even more so, the researcher notes, when one realizes the health characteristics of the two sample groups before injury were not statistically different.

Congratulations Rebecca! – and thank you for donating the $250 prize to the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG).