As Neil Eckelberger struggles to recover from an injury suffered on the job 19 months ago, he finds himself in a desperate legal fight with his employer’s workers comp carrier, Travelers, for medical care and benefits.
“There is no real oversight of how carriers behave,” Eckelberger’s attorney Michael Winer said.
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also serves as Insurance Commissioner, claims his ombudsman office helps resolve workers’ comp disputes.
“We close out 94 percent of the cases that are impassed without even having to go to court,” Patronis said.
Winer believes that office should be empowered to monitor carrier behavior.
“To have somebody who not just acts as an ombudsman, which they’ve had for years, to try to resolve disputes, but more tries to look into improper behavior by the carrier and then hold them accountable for it,” Winner added.
“I pick fights with insurance companies. I pick fights with attorneys. I pick fights with employees,” Patronis said.
“At the end of the day, who I care about at the start of the day and the end of the day is the
injured worker, trying to get them back to normal.”
Patronis was out in front of an effort a year ago to expand workers’ comp and PTSD benefits for first responders.
This year, as Senator Keith Perry (R) tried to push a bill to give insurance companies 45 business days to decide whether to grant benefits to injured workers, the CFO was quiet on the issue.
8 On Your Side asked Patronis where he stood on Perry’s bill.
“Our role would have been, if that bill had moved forward, would to be advocating for ensuring that the injured workers get the benefits they deserve in order to get them back to normal,” Patronis replied.
“The inmates run the asylum. There really is no government body that exists to hold insurance companies accountable,” Winer added.
The Eckelbergers claims they approached the CFO’s office about issues it had with the quality of care that Travelers provided Neil. They say the office told them it couldn’t help them.
The CFO’s office does audit insurance carriers and can fine them if it determines those companies are not paying the benefits owed.
Patronis acknowledged benefits for injured workers in Florida have stagnated for more than 15 years.
He said it might be time for a thorough review of the standard of care and benefits that injured workers are entitled to.
“We have not had a serious look at that since 2003 and I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of looking at that and making sure that we’re keeping up with the true needs that are, you know, a standard of care that every employee should be entitled to,” Patronis explained.
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