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Workers’ comp bill that favored insurance companies pulled after 8 On Your Side report

Investigations

Hundreds of thousands of people get hurt on the job in Florida each year.

Who protects them from insurance companies that try to wrongfully deny them benefits?

It isn’t the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

At the moment, lawmakers seem to be turning a blind eye to the real problem with the workers’ compensation system.

The true crisis really is lack of quality medical care and lack of oversight of carrier behavior, attorney Michael Winer contends.

Winer represents Neil Eckelberger of Lakeland.

Neil suffered extensive injuries and burns in a fiery explosion at work in Sept. 2017.

He says he didn’t want to hire an attorney, but says he was forced into it by Travelers, his employer’s workers’ compensation carrier.

Getting subpar care would be the understatement of the century probably, Eckelberger said.

He spent days in the Tampa General Hospital burn unit.

Upon his release, Travelers rejected sending Eckelberger to specialists that TGH recommended.  

Instead, it sent him to a walk-in clinic for follow up care. 

There is no penalty for insurance carriers who fail to provide medical care in a timely fashion, Winer pointed out.

Travelers has rejected requests to have Eckelberger evaluated for a traumatic brain injury.

A workers’ comp ear, nose and throat specialist told Eckelberger that his hearing problems following the explosion were all in his head.

An independent physician hired by the Eckelbergers found Neil suffered significant hearing loss.

Eckelberger now suffers back and hip pain.

They look at MRIs and you know bulging discs and you know, say that it’s in my head, lack of core strength, he said.

Gainesville State Senator Keith Perry is proposing a bill to reform workers’ compensation.

We’re doing some things that help workers out, really, he told a reporter in Tallahassee last week.

In truth, Perry’s bill makes it tougher for injured workers like Eckelberger to access timely medical care and benefits.

Insurance companies only pay lawyers representing injured workers if a workers’ comp judge determines the insurance company wrongfully denied benefits.

Perry’s bill also makes it tougher for those attorneys to earn a reasonable fee.

Four times Perry’s office scheduled telephone interviews with 8 On Your Side’s Steve Andrews. Four times Senator Perry was a no-show.

Following our report about his bill on Friday, Perry pulled it on Monday.

I thought after talking to my colleagues and some other people, and with so much information in the changes, that it would be better for us to wait, Perry told lawmakers at the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance.

I would submit the only problem that needs to be fixed, as evidenced by your stories, is lack of quality medical care that gets delivered to injured workers, that’s really where the focus should lie, Winer added.

Perry pulled his bill because he likely didn’t have the votes.

It will come up again next week. 

One lawmaker told 8 On Your Side he has questions about the perceived problem Perry is pitching and wants to know how this bill will benefit workers.

If you have something that you think should be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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