TOPSHAM — As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If only Gov. LePage and the then-Republican-controlled Legislature had heeded this warning before they set about to “reform” Maine’s workers’ compensation law in the spring of 2012, at the expense of Maine’s injured workers.

Lest you think that this is just yesterday’s news, it isn’t. The media recently reported that Maine businesses will see an average of a 7.7 percent drop in their workers’ compensation premiums beginning April 1. This is the largest drop since 1998, projected to save Maine businesses $15.2 million.

However, before our state government starts crowing about the decrease in rates, let’s make one thing clear: This drop has nothing to do with the law changes pushed through in 2012.

On the contrary, the rate drop we are seeing this year – and the fact that workers’ compensation rates in Maine have decreased 52.7 percent since the workers’ compensation overhaul was passed back in 1992 – bring up some very serious questions. Why did the LePage administration – with help from the Republican-controlled Legislature – make extreme changes to the law – changes that, seen with the continued decrease in rates, were not only completely unnecessary and excessive, but also punitive to Maine workers?

The 2012 law substantially reduced long-term benefits for workers with the most serious injuries – those whose permanent disability prevents them from recouping their pre-injury level of wages.

For example, a highly trained machinist who was permanently injured by a piece of faulty equipment at work can now only do a desk job that pays half his normal salary. His workers’ compensation insurance (which protects companies from lawsuits, just as it protects workers who get injured) provides benefits to make up the difference in pay.


The new 2012 law ends wage-replacement benefits for nearly all such workers after 10 years, regardless of how old they are or when they are able to retire. This premature benefit termination will cause considerable financial hardship, if not financial ruin, to thousands of hardworking Mainers and their families.

It’s a stiff price to pay to fix a system that was already working and saving Maine businesses and insurers millions of dollars.

In fact, in early 2012, just when the legislative battle over workers’ comp was heating up, Maine’s Tri-agency Annual Report on the Status of the State of Maine Workers’ Compensation System was issued. That 2012 report concluded that Maine had one of the most stable workers’ compensation systems in the country.

Indeed, the report was quite glowing about the extent to which Maine had lowered costs, stabilized its compensation system and created a fair balance between costs and benefits.

As a result, since 1992, the report noted, Maine had moved from one of the most expensive compensation systems in the country to squarely in the middle of the pack.

Which brings us back to the “ain’t broke” part of the equation. In 2012, were Maine businesses clamoring for a reduction in benefits to injured workers? They were not. Were Maine’s insurance companies closing up shop and taking their business elsewhere? No. Why not? Because, as all reasonable people recognized – and as the 2012 report confirmed – the system was working.


If the system was working so well, why was the law changed to slash long-term benefits for Maine’s injured workers? Politics, pure and simple.

For the first time in more than 50 years, the Republican Party controlled the Blaine House and both houses of the Maine Legislature. The Republicans saw a rare opportunity to reward businesses at the expense of working Mainers, many of them in labor unions.

They used their majorities to muscle through a major reduction in benefits to a highly vulnerable segment of our population. Without a further change in the law, the victims of this legislative debacle will be paying the price for a long time to come.

As we prepare for an upcoming election season, with both the governorship and the Legislature up for grabs, we would do well to heed the lessons of the 2012 workers’ comp overhaul.

Elections matter. So do reason, fairness and compassion. Workers deserve to be paid compensation for as long as their injuries last. Let’s elect representatives who will make that happen.

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