Kansas Chamber: “Age is a Pre-Existing Condition”

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If you happen to be a older working Kansan, watch out! The Kansas Chamber is back to it’s same old bag of tricks on improving bottom lines at the expense of working Kansans.

A recently obtained legislative update from the oft-extreme Wichita Independent Business Association, or WIBA, shows that it is “the preference of the business community…to not initiate work comp reform this session and wait for a more favorable governor to be elected.”

(Read the full memo here…)

The Kansas Chamber’s golden goose is Senate Bill 461, which would expand the definition of preexisting condition to mean virtually any condition an employee may have, including conditions that have never been diagnosed, are not symptomatic (re-occurring), and have never limited an employee’s daily activities or job performance. Under the Chamber’s measure, age-related conditions would be used to reduce or eliminate work comp benefits for older workers!

Under current law, preexisting condition is defined in a way that prevents an injured worker from receiving compensation more than once for the same injury.  Therefore, a worker who aggravates a prior, or preexisting, injury is not eligible to receive full compensation.  Rather, the worker is compensated only for the portion of the increased disability caused by the new injury.

For older working Kansans, particularly veterans who likely suffered war-related injuries, the Kansas Chamber’s definition of “preexisting condition” would have devastating consequences. Undiagnosed conditions, such as osteoporosis, glaucoma, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, asthma and allergies, could have all been used to deny working Kansans who are injured on the job, old and young alike, wage benefits, tossing those employees as though they were disposable and without any responsibility.

The Wichita Eagle had this to say about the bill:

But Senate Bill 461 would make it even harder for employers, especially older ones, to collect on claims by redefining “pre-existing conditions” to include nonsymptomatic health conditions such as the natural aging process.

For instance, if an older worker tore a shoulder muscle lifting a box, an employer could seek to reduce compensation benefits, claiming the injury was due in part to an aging body. [...] [T]he premise of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce-backed bill — that Kansas businesses are unfairly burdened with workers’ comp claims — isn’t supported by facts.  On the contrary, Kansas has some of the most employer-friendly workers’ comp laws in the nation. [...]

The bill is potentially far-reaching in influence.  Almost all Kansans — 94 percent — are covered by workers’ comp laws if they suffer a workplace-related injury.  This long-standing “no fault” system developed as a good-faith contract between employers and workers, who gave up their right to sue employers in exchange for reasonable compensation.

Over the years, these benefits have eroded relative to other states.  As a result, Kansas risks undermining the fundamental sense of fairness that underlies workers’ compensation laws.

Fortunately, when Senate Bill 461 was presented to then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius in 2006, she vetoed the measure, saying…

“Legislators would have been well-advised to listen to the veterans, fire fighters, nurses and seniors who all expressed their strong opposition to this bill.  Veterans’ have told me they’re appalled that the physical hardships they endured during their military service would be used against them and I share their concerns.”

Unfortunately, Kansas will have a new Governor in January and can expect that extreme interest groups backed by corporate contributors such as the Kansas Chamber and WIBA to begin a new assault on working Kansans, particularly older working Kansans.  Let’s just hope our new Governor has the good sense to let this bill die another well-deserved death.

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Kansas Chamber: “Age is a Pre-Existing Condition”

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