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Workers' compensation is federally mandated and administered by states, but some employers may opt out if they have an alternate plan. When that happens, it can be more difficult for individuals hurt on the job to get compensation for their medical claims, as was highlighted in a feature on National Public Radio.
The story revealed the difficulties of Rachel Jenkins, 33, who was injured caring for a disabled man and denied benefits by her Oklahoma employer's private plan. Jenkins and others sued the state and employers over certain provisions in the Oklahoma workers' compensation opt-out plan. This week, Jenkins settled her claim with the company, reports NPR.
The reason Jenkins' claim is a matter of national interest is because it is instructive, uncovering something important about the impact of individual provisions. ResCare, the company Jenkins worked for, required employees who were injured to report their claim within 24 hours.
Jenkins was three hours late. Her claim was denied based on this tardiness, which she blamed on the medication taken after injury. The settlement follows a ruling by the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission, which declared the state's opt-out system unconstitutional and is being challenged in the state Supreme Court.
Jenkins will be compensated for her injury. But the lessons of the case remain important to all, from individual workers to state legislators. Workers pay into the public insurance fund, or if their employers opt out, into a private one. We may think little of it when we are healthy, but after an injury every little provision does make a difference, and unreasonable requirements strain individuals' lives.
"I went through hell, a whole lot of pain where I was in tears," Jenkins told NPR last year. "I was just thinking ... 'How am I going to take care of my kids?'"
If you are injured at work and concerned about your ability to recover compensation for time off and medical expenses, speak to an attorney. Many lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your claim.