Workers’ comp blues

Mary Ann Martorana is a 60-year-old injured Sacramento worker
Our elected officials are at it again, trying to distract us from their incompetence by beating on our much-maligned workers’ compensation system. It will be the injured workers who take the heat.

It’s easy to blame the victims and infer that the problem will be solved if we can just eliminate those “cheating” workers who are taking advantage of the system. It is about time for the media to start telling our stories, some of which are unbelievably tragic.

Injured workers usually do not understand how this convoluted system works, and neither does the average citizen. I sure didn’t, and I got eaten alive.

Insurance companies flagrantly ignore the workers’ compensation statutes. The only recourse is to take them to court, which takes forever. Most workers’ comp lawyers give their clients very little attention because they get what they consider a low fee (12.5 percent of the settlement). Fees for tests and medical care often are not paid for months, if at all, resulting in loss of treatment and a lack of proper diagnostic testing.

Doctors and medical facilities are accused of over-treating and overcharging, but medical professionals who are honestly trying to help us end up taking abuse and are often left holding the bag for thousands of dollars in unpaid charges. Right now, the insurance company owes more than $5,000 to my pain-management specialist, and I cannot ask her to treat me for nothing, so I am not getting treatment.

Often, the insurance company finds a way to stop paying benefits, and the injured worker is left with nothing to live on during litigation. I have tried to get the vocational rehabilitation I needed elsewhere because that insurance benefit is also in litigation. And I have been refused retraining in a skill that would allow me to work within the limitations of my physical disability.

My state disability has run out, and no one wants to hire me because I am too old and too injured. My former employer got away with firing me as part of a reduction in force, so I have no job to return to.

I wish I could get a grant to do a research project to interview injured workers and their treatment providers to document the insurance companies’ abuses. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to worry about being on the street by Thanksgiving.