Lawmakers look to rescue injury fund

It's called the second injury fund and it's been going broke for some time.

Financed by a three-percent surcharge on workers compensation insurance premiums, the second injury fund is a state-run account created during World War II to make disabled GI TMs more employable by protecting civilian employers from the expenses permanent disabilities that might result from on-the-job second injuries.

However, in recent years, it has expanded greatly, paying general claims against employers who do not carry workers comp coverage and claims from people whose pre-existing disability was not work or war related, such as obesity. Last fall, with more than 20,000 claims still pending, the fund maxed out and Attorney General Chris Koster halted any new settlements.

"The idea is to address the insolvency of the fund and to move it in a positive direction, Rep. Barney Fisher, (R) Richards said.

Fisher's bill would shift some claims from the second injury fund to the workers' compensation system. That likely would increase the comp premiums paid by employers and, thus generate more money under the three-percent surcharge. The plan has the support of both labor and business groups.

"Whether the bill passes or not, as long as there's no surcharge increase, we'd be supportive of that, Associated Industries President Ray McCarty said.

And that's where critics, such as the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, throw down on the bill. They say the dumping new claims on the workers comp system will not change the growth in the long-term debt already incurred by the second injury fund.

"You do not have enough revenue to pay claims, MATA Lobbyist Mark Moreland said. Therefore, you must increase the surcharge."

Previous audits by both State Auditor Susan Montee and by the Price Waterhouse Firm both raised questions about the surcharge.

The committee took no action on the bill today.