The headline that caught my eye was “Sarasota lawmaker supports bill extending wait times for benefits to injured workers.” It opened with the sentence, “He claims he wants to protect workers who get hurt on the job, but State Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) is backing a bill that would make injured workers wait 45 business days in order to receive benefits.”

The article goes on to discuss Gruters support of Florida’s SB 1636, a bill discussed here yesterday that appears to be stalled in committee. 

Joe Gruters is Chairman of the Florida Republican Party and was a co-Chairman of the Florida Trump Campaign. He is my State Senator, as he represents the district in which I live. I know him, although not exceedingly well. We were at one time members of the same civic club. The last time I ran into him was in a furniture store just before the November 2016 election. I assured him that my wife and I would be voting for his side in November and were hoping to finally silence the Clinton dynasty. As it turns out, voting was not enough to silence Hillary; it appears we will need a wooden stake to accomplish that task. But that is probably a topic for another day, as I digress…..

At any rate, when I started to read the article, my base instinct was to think, “a 45-business day wait in Florida to receive benefits? Really? Who in the hell would support that?” 

The problem is, while the core of the article had some factual basis, it was incredibly deceptive in the way it was written. Whether that was by design or ignorance I cannot say. It appears the clause of SB 1636 the reporter was referring to was one related to the attachment of attorney’s fees, and not directly related to “waiting periods” for workers’ comp benefits, as the reporter would have us believe. 

Currently in Florida, medical benefits are immediately available for accepted claims. Regarding indemnity benefits, no payment is due for the first 7 days of disability unless the disability lasts longer than 21 days, then the first 7 days will be paid retroactively. Those payments must begin within 14 days of the acceptance of the claim. Nothing in SB 1636 would change that. Instead, there is a clause that would change Florida Statute 440.25 (4) (j), which currently reads, “A judge of compensation claims may not award interest on unpaid medical bills and the amount of such bills may not be used to calculate the amount of interest awarded. Regardless of the date benefits were initially requested, attorney’s fees do not attach under this subsection until 30 days after the date the carrier or self-insured employer receives the petition.” SB 1636 would change “30 days” to “45 business days.” There are other changes proposed in that section related to where the filing must be submitted and requiring good faith efforts prior to filing, but that is not relevant to the way the 45 days was presented. There are similar language changes proposed for 440.34 (3) (d), but they again are completely related to the attachment of attorney fees. 

While it is true that the clause may delay, in some cases, certain services for injured workers (which is certainly not a good thing), it in no way changes any benefit waiting periods otherwise prescribed by law. 

I am not a fan of SB 1636. I believe it is poorly conceived legislation that fails to address underlying issues within the comp system. I am disappointed that my State Senator, like so many state legislators across the nation, doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the intricacies of our system. The article, however, is completely misleading in that the average person who understands little about workers’ compensation would come away believing that all injuries and all benefits would be subject to a 45-day waiting period if SB 1636 were to become law. That is simply not true.

And Senator Gruters doesn’t deserve to be lambasted over allegations that are not accurate. Let him vote for the bill – then we’ll lambast him, but for all the right reasons and not fabricated ones.

Debating and defending the workers’ compensation system is difficult enough when everybody understands the parameters and processes of the system. To inject falsehoods and misinformation into the argument serves no one well. This is a challenge when it comes to the “mainstream media.” Workers’ comp is highly complex, and to truly understand it takes effort; effort that many reporters today just don’t seem to make. This is an issue, as they are creating a dialogue around a topic they do not comprehend. 

I was interviewed recently by a reporter inquiring about a proposed 13% reduction in Florida comp rates. She asked me how I would feel if I was an injured worker who learned that “your benefits were about to be cut by 13%.” I tried in vain to explain it to her, but the resulting article was such gibberish that I didn’t even understand quotes that were attributed to me (You can read all about that here). And she was billed as a “Utilities, Consumer Issues, Technology, Insurance and Nonprofits Reporter.”

God help us all.

Bias and ignorance in journalism are the enemies of open and transparent conversation. We cannot have an effective policy debate if people are being fed disinformation through our media outlets. Certainly, I understand that mistakes happen – they’ve occurred in this blog more times than I care to admit – but my interactions with the press in the past tell me there is more at play than simple ignorance. Pre-conceived notions and narratives exist within the journalists that attempt to cover our industry today. Some of them are truly professional and keep a balanced perspective in their reporting. Others simply do not, and despite their “noble” intentions, their imbalanced presentations do not serve anyone well.

And that is a problem for an industry like workers’ compensation.


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