tv Ali Velshi on Target Al Jazeera February 9, 2016 1:00am-1:31am EST
>> our american story is written everyday. it's not always pretty, but it's real... and we show you like no-one else can. this is our american story. this is america tonight. "on target" tonight. adding insult to injury. why so many employees who are seriously hurt on the job end up getting their workers comp claims denied. plus going undercover. how investigators try to stop insurance fraud and cheating the system. hundreds of thousands of
american workers seriously injured on the job each year depend on the money they get from workers compensation benefits, state laws require employers to buy workers comp insurance so they can provide medical care and lost wages to employees hurt at work. in exchange workers give up the right to sue their employers. it grew in response to devastating workplace injuries that came with the industrial revolution. but more than 100 years later critics say states have weak.ed workers comp laws in ways that benefit business at the expense of the workers. last okayed bernie sanders and nine others wrote a letter to u.s. labor secretary tom perez about what they call as workers devastating changes.
hamharsh light on workers compensation in different states. those laws give insurance companies over medicare, medical care and more difficult for workers to qualify for coverage. they want the obama administration to restart federal oversight of workers comp programs that stopped in 2004. the letter suggests the u.s. needs to do more to protect injured workers and taxpayers. now here's why all americans should care about this issue: when worker's comp pays less, taxpayers pay more. a study sited by prod publica site that lost earnings the other two-thirds is partly paid for by government programs like social security and medicare and medicaid. that meant in 2007 taxpayers shelled out $30 billion to cover
the costs of injured workers. the rest came from health and disability insurance or out of workers pockets. many american workers don't have the savings to make ends meet when workers comp and other funds aren't enough to get by. that's why state laws are adding insult to injury for americans who get hurt on the job. it's a story playing out all over the country. we went to arkansas to see it firsthand. >> i joined the police department in little rock june 22nd, 1998. i'd always wanted to be a police officer. always thought i could make a difference. i was proud because it was -- it was a life dream. >> in november of 2013, judy perkins life as she knew it came to a screeching halt. on that day, a physical agility test similar to these at police
departments across the country went seriously wrong. >> you have to jump over a four foot fence and then you have to jump over a five foot fence. it's just like an obstacle course but you have to do all this in two minutes and three seconds. i was 62 years old, and i wanted to show them i could still do it. >> in true competitive spirit judy was flying high. >> captain got it, minute and 58 seconds. >> there because one last hurdle to tackle. >> there's on 150 pound dead weight dummy, you have to pug pull it. and when i did my last pull, my feet came out from inside of me. >> judy had broken two of her vertebrae, if that wasn't enough, there was still more
disturbing news from the doctor, workers compensation, the insurance that employers are required to buy, lost income or compensation for injuries. >> what they are telling me is they are thought authorizing you to stay home. i didn't know how the system worked but i wanted to keep my job. >> judy went to a second doctor. >> he said you know hopefully we'll get hold of whoever it is at workers comp and hopefully we can do it by friday. >> the police department's insurance company denied the procedure. >> i was kind of crying and screaming, you know what do they mean? you know i'm dying here. >> judy says the insurance company, risk management resources wanted her to receive physical therapy before she underwent an expensive operation. we contacted them several times
but company officials declined to appear on camera or make a statement. >> just so many ways that you don't get paid now which makes it in my opinion unfair and just unbelievable. >> phillip wilson is judy perkins attorney. he says he's taken on many outrageous cases. >> i had a case where a man had a horribly mangled hand. the doctors kept saying we probably should amputate. the workers comp insurance company wouldn't pay for it and his fingers kept falling off. >> another client worked at this little rock mcdonald's. nigel haskett was shot l multipl multipletimes by an attacker. his medical bills
r were over $300,000. >> if you are on the employer's premises and get hurt you're supposed to be paid. it doesn't work that way anymore. >> he eventually negotiated an out of court settlement for haskett the. he says it's becoming increasingly more difficult to settle workers compensation cases. reduce benefits or make it more difficult to qualify for them. many of these laws have increased the control that employers and insurers have over whether an employed worker needed surgery. >> it ended my career. >> which brings us back to judy perkins. she conveniently founder a
doctor who helped her push the rming surgery through. >> the vertebrae started setting. i hurt all the time. >> she eventually resigned from the particularly. she has a hard time sitting for long times, walk or sleep. >> i wanted to get well. i'm not the only officer who has gone through this. i have officer friends who have the same situation. they are worried that if they don't go back to work, after they're hurt they're going to lose their jobs and it's wrong. >> there's the flip side, fraud. tracking down potential scammers. >> we think that this guy might be working. we're starting early crack of dawn to make sure that we do catch him. >> mosquitos spreading
rare diseases. >> as scientists we'd be fighting a losing battle against mosquitos. >> they'd kill one person every 12 seconds. >> just like that, i might have genetically modified a mosquito. >> it's like a video game with genes. >> this is what innovation looks like. >> i feel like we're making an impact. >> let's do it. >> techknow, where technology meets humanity. only on al jazeera america.
>> earlier we heard the story of judy per cips and her struggle perkins to get the operation she needed. although she still suffers she's ultimately lucky, she received the surgery needed. others can battle insurance companies for years, but insurance companies have all right to conduct their due diligence. robert thank you for being with
us. >> thank for having me. >> robert we hear instances of workers comp fraud but a study by propublica and npr suggests a lot of spawrler things that -- smaller things that a lot of pull back has become because of rising medical costs and rising insurance costs. >> i don't think that's actually what's at play here. obviously that's a portion of what's going on but during the segment with ms. perkins one of the things i heard was the frustration how long it was taking to get medical treatment. there is a give and take in the workers compensation system. i know i represent employers and one of their biggest complaints is that employees who get injured at work get workers compensation benefits regardless whose fault it is, it is a no fault system. but contesting claims in workers compensation they have a right to investigate medical
treatment. so in this particular case the opinion of one doctor that surgery is needed is really just that: the opinion of one doctor. as we all know reasonable doctors can disagree as to what proper treatment should be. insurance companies should have the right and do have the right to do further investigation as to what treatment could be appropriate. i can't speak to ms. perkins case but that is how the insurance companies do these kinds of claims. >> we didn't look too hard to find people who it didn't seem unreasonable they weren't getting care that they required. there was a case of a mcdonald's worker who was shot by a customer and was denied treatment because it wasn't in the course of his duty. this stuff feels kind of dirty. >> i think what happens is we hear only part of the story. and i know there are situations that occur where we hear that he
was defending a customer but we don't know the whole story and i can't really speak to that particular situation. there are a variety of circumstances that can lead to why a claim is denied, why it is determined that somebody was not in the course and scope of the employment. the facts of that particular matter would dictate whether that person was in the course and scope of their employment. it sounds like it went through legal process and the determination was that they were not. while we hear some basic facts and it does seem unfair as you put it dirty, there would be more to the tort that we would have -- the store that we would have to find out whether that determination would be made. >> the propublica story, a derrick worker,ing was determined to need a prosthetic land. an insurance company employed by
the employer sent him out of state to a doctor that apparently just determined he needed a hook rather than a working hand. there was a $50,000 difference between a hook and a working happened. they determined an outcome that was substantially less expensive and that didn't give him the life back he had for being injured on the job. >> i can tell you in florida something like that would probably not fly. i know that insurance companies their business is they're looking to make economic and financial decisions regarding these medical claims. but the example you just gave seems to be an extreme. it's not an example i've ever seen or heard of and i don't know that a court in the state of florida would allow such a thing to occur. there is a process involved where we do get in front of judges in compensation claims and those judges will ultimately determine whether things like that are appropriate. i don't think that i would ever see a case like that, that would be determined appropriate.
but again as you indicated or as was indicated in the piece that i just listened to, every state differs. their statutes differ. so what's permissible or allowed in another state may very well not be permissible here in florida. >> let me ask you there robert and i get your point we'd have to look at each of these cases individually and on the merits. but let me show you a graphic that indicates the bigger picture here. this is the premium cost to the employer per $100 of wages. in 1988, it was $3.32 per $100 of worker wages. that was the premium. in 2014 this is nationwide, according to propublica, one- one--.80. why would -- 1.80. very limb costs less today than this? >> i don't know.
employers that i speak to, that i represent, don't see a reduction in their premiums. they are consistently seeing increases in their premiums. as part of my job i am speaking to employers every single day. and one of their biggest complaints is that their premiums are going up. when one imloi employee gets -- employee gets hurt and that may be the only injury they have in their workplace in 20 years, the minute that one employ gets hurt or files a claim, that premium goes up and in some case they get dropped. their concern is employers of all sizes, mom and pop or large corporation, they all realize these claims will ultimately cost them money. the problem is for every case you have heard about for an injured worker who has been treated poorly, there is another case of a worker who is trying to manipulate the system and in some cases commit fraud.
this has a detrimental impact on the employer. it really is a two way street on this. >> robert good to talk to you, thank you for being with us to share yu viewer, robert freedman your views. >> workers comp costs the country tens of billions of dollars every year. illinois based private investigator bob keen makes his living busting the fraudsters. we went along for a wild ride. >> we think this goo i might be work, we're starting early crack of dawn to make sure we do catch him. >> track down and record suspected scammers collecting workers comp money. >> this is a construction worker. he thinks he's on vacation, collecting workers comp, being
able to right his jet skis. >> keen says his clients including insurance companies, small businesses and major u.s. corporations have good reason to be vigilant. >> more than 80% of the investigations that we do we're catching people that are exaggerating their claims. >> among keen's surveillance videos of shame, a subject who said his traumatic brain injury kept him from working but apparently didn't stop him from playing golf and olandscaper apparently suffering from a debilitating shoulder injury chopping down and climbing trees. >> this is going to affect their insurance policy, hurting their bottom line. depending on what the exposure is could put them out of business. >> in a midwest suburb in a shroud of darkness we see keen hot on the trail of an
employee. keen lies in wait, suspecting his subject may soon leave for work at another job. >> you're going to get that initial brake light flash and everything and once we see that we know it's go time. >> about an hour later the suspected fraudster appears. a truck pulls out of the driveway and the chase begins. >> he's turning off. red lights, i still don't have blockers. i'm giving him a huge lead, he's giving me the signal that he's going left. >> the challenges is staying a few cars behind. >> i'm going to wait here. wait as long as i can to give him as much of a lead as i can. it's not going to have to go. garbage truck in between. that is a disaster. this is going to give him a huge lead so again hold tight. >> a few white knuckled minutes later we find the man entering
an office building. >> all right well here's where he works. hold on hold on, hold on. mission accomplished. the guy is clearly working. >> for legal reasons we can't reveal the name of the company but we can tell you it's not a business where customers typically would visit in person. >> now what i want to do is figure out what he does. >> continued surveillance would reveal that the suspected scammer returned to the building the next day and spent approximately eight hours there. >> when we are submitting our evidence that is directly opposite of what these people are claiming that we are saving the companies hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, without exaggeration per claim. so in a way i get that victory but having a criminal justice background i would want them to get fraud because they should be the example. this should be more of a crime that is aggressively pursued. >> workers comp fraud is huge in
america. tens of billions of dollars if not more are stolen every year. >> jim kwiggle represents insurance companies and consumers. his coalition is working to enact antifraud legislation to combat a multi-tiered program. >> several pillars, first, fake injury claims by dishonest workers, second, organized rings that make large volumes of false medical claims and injury claims. and third are deceitful employers, who lie about their workers, low ball their jobs and their payrolls in order to dodge paying full workers comp premiums. >> truly injured workers are findings it increasingly difficult to get the benefits they desperately need. >> the people that are frauding the system are the ones that are taking away from the people that deserve it.
>> well, coming up little or nothing. that's the choice for disabled americans who make way less than federal minimum wage and it's all perfectly legal. >> this is one of the most important sites in the century. >> this linked the mafia and the church. >> why do you think you didn't get the medal of honor? >> i can't allow you not to go into that because that is your job. >> we gonna bring this city back one note at a time. >> proudest moment in my life.
disabled workers throughout the country are earning as little as $2 an hour. the controversy over subminimum wages have created painful divisions even within the disabled community. at the crux of the community are sheltered workshops, employers who employ at subminimum wages. others say requiring them to pay the minimum wage could mean that hundreds of thousands of disabled workers end up with no options for employment. the controversy came to a head in st. louis where the city debated the issue. 50-year-old teresa jordan has never had it easy but the single mother has always been determined not to let cerebral palsy not to get in the way of an independent spirit. she and her daughter live in a modest two bedroom apartment in
st. louis. >> right now i'm labeling boxes, i do about two and a half skids a day, 500 to 700 boxes on a skid. >> like 420,000 stabled workers in the u.s., teresa is paid below the minimum wage. she earns about $3.65 an hour, $4 less than missouri's minimum wage, her knowledge income fluctuates based on how many boxes she labels. >> to me it's not right that we're getting the pay that we get. we work hard over there, we work very hard. >> industrial aid is a sheltered workshop. with government approval, sheltered workers can legally employ workers at subminimum wages. sheltered workshops are a well
intentioned idea gone seriously wrong. >> when it's legal to pay people less than the minimum wage, often as little as 20 or 30 cents an hour, raises serious questions about exploitation and whether people are given opportunity to reach full model. >> their business model they say is dependent on subminimum wages. >> if we were forced to pay minimum wages to adults with disabilities, we would be out of business. >> it's a fight to prove my indulge ability all my life. these workers deserve at least the respect of a minimum wage. >> i'm scared. i'm scared to death that the workshops will go away because it gives him meaning. >> the future sheltered workshops across the country is being threatened by stepped up
thoarmt o enforcement of a supreme court ruling. >> jim mackanini's developmentally is disabled brother gerard makes about $1 an hour at aarc. >> working at his electronic recycling program, he's thrilled about that, tremendous amount of self esteem that he feels out of it. >> the thought of gerard and his co-workers losing their jobs here literally brings jim to tears. >> the families, give me a second. the families i think worry about the guys, the gals, just being at home. you know, with perhaps little meaning, you know, to their day-to-day existence. >> we don't want to see the workshop close down.
i don't want to be laid off. >> that's our show for today. i'm ali velshi. thank you for joining us. the news continues here on al jazeera america. ♪ >> it's a fascinating couple of days in the republican race for new hampshire. campaigns rising and falling, spinning and sprining, trying to win the expectations game, and the actual votes cast by people who want them to be their nominee for president. i know exactly what i'm doing. here comes the first primary, is