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Tennessee's workers' comp needs emergency treatment, says Plummer

Gov. Phil Bredesen has said that consideration of revamping workers comp structures should be high on the State Legislature's "to do" list.

Dr. Jerry Plummer, assistant professor of economics at Austin Peay, points out that while bringing workers compensation costs in line with bordering states would help bring jobs to Tennessee, little has been said about why Tennessees costs are so high.
Gov. Phil Bredesen has said that consideration of revamping workers' comp structures should be high on the State Legislature's "to do" list.

Dr. Jerry Plummer, assistant professor of economics at Austin Peay, points out that while bringing workers' compensation costs in line with bordering states would help bring jobs to Tennessee, little has been said about why Tennessee's costs are so high.

“It leads one to wonder if these increased costs are a function of Tennessee's medical providers, using looseness in the construct of the existent workers' compensation laws, to 'run up' costs associated with injury treatments,” he says. “Comments from some Tennessee attorneys comparing cost of care, the availability of care in Nashville and the presence of for-profit hospital systems in Tennessee could indicate that there is some ‘over-treatment' in Tennessee and higher health care costs.”

Another possibility, according to Plummer, is that higher medical costs could relate to lower educational levels of the “typical” Tennessean. “If employers take a person who reads at a seventh grade level and have him working on a piece of equipment with a 100-page safety manual without giving the employee intensive training—and then pressure the employee to ‘keep production up,' that's just an accident waiting to happen.”

Additionally, he cites the strength of the insurance industry in Tennessee as possibly being detrimental to legislative attempts in rehauling workers' compensation laws.

Plummer says, “Not only do overall costs need to be brought into line, but a review of payout levels to victims may be in order also. For example, the death payout for a single person is only $10,000—barely enough to cover burial costs!”

“In order to bring overall costs in line with bordering states, a review of existent Tennessee workers' compensation laws is a good idea,” he says. “It also is a good idea to review payout levels to individuals involved in workplace accidents.

“Tightening the language of the law to allow for prudent and required medical care will be good for Tennessee, for workplace accident victims and for Tennessee's economy. While the books are open, it would be a good time to pursue the potential relationship between undereducated employees and industrial accidents to determine if increased educational expenditures can have a positive effect on reduction of employee injuries.”
—Rebecca Mackey