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North Carolina workers' comp bill may restrict public access

A bill that was recently passed by North Carolina lawmakers could mean that workers will soon become unable to find out whether their employers carry workers' compensation insurance.

The bill would restrict public access to information that the Rate Bureau provides the Industrial Commission, which administers workers' compensation issues. The Rate Bureau, a group of private insurance companies that maintains policy information for insured employers and sets the workers' compensation insurance rates, provides information to the commission.

The bill's aim is to reform workers' compensation policies in North Carolina by creating a task force to study issues and provide recommendations geared toward improvement. A last minute amendment to the bill called to restrict transparency by not allowing employer insurance information organized by the Rate Bureau to be a part of public record.

A representative of the Rate Bureau said the amendment was needed to keep confidential information private, such as Social Security numbers, names, addresses and payroll information.

Critics argue that the privacy concerns are exaggerated, and that sensitive information is typically removed from public records.

Media leaders and other groups are encouraging the governor to veto the bill.

They say that investigations, such as that recently carried out by the News & Observer that discovered thousands of North Carolina employers did not carry the required workers' compensation insurance, would not be possible to do if this bill becomes law.

That investigation also unearthed data showing that many employees who sustained workplace injuries were never compensated for their injuries and employers were not fined by the commission for their violations.

While the bill is under review, North Carolina employees injured on the job should not be deterred from considering filing a workers' compensation claim to recover benefits for their medical costs and lost wages due to workplace injuries injuries. Additionally, filing a claim may bring attention to a company's existing workers' compensation coverage, or lack thereof.

Source: NewsObserver.com, "Media wants veto on NC workers' comp bill," Austin Baird, June, 28, 2012

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