By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Injured workers and industry professionals slammed Pinnacol Assurance with “heart wrenching” testimony during Monday’s committee hearing that accused the quasi-governmental workers’ compensation agency of alleged cost-saving practices that come at the expense of the injured parties.
However, Republicans say the panel’s “inquisition” is just an excuse for Democrats to later raid “one of our state’s most well-managed companies” for money. More than 15 people Monday told their Pinnacol Assurance horror stories.
Law enforcement veteran James Brand testified that he lost his hearing as a result of the years he has spent on the firing range. But Pinnacol denied his claim because they said he did not have a baseline-hearing test, according to the Colorado Senate Majority Office.
“All I wanted was for workmen’s compensation to pay for my hearing aids that have brought my safety and efficiency back to where it was before,” he said in a statement.
Former firefighter Steve Stahl testified that he lost his home and put his family in debt of $60,000 because Pinnacol denied his complaints, making him pay for his medical treatments out of pocket for severe back injuries that he said came while he was serving on duty. He added that Pinnacol investigators spied on him and called his friends to ask if he had any alcohol and drug habits because there was a supposed insurance fraud claim against him.
“I was shocked to know they were calling me a criminal,” he said. “I believe Pinnacol will continue to deny legitimate claims. I find their practices to be deplorable, manipulative and degrading.”
For their part, Pinnacol CEO Ken Ross said they were respectful of each injured worker and their testimony and asked no questions Monday because the workers are protected by medical confidentiality. The stories highlight the need for workplace safety practices and effective changes, he added.
Colorado Republicans have gone further in their attacks on the committee hearings. Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said earlier this month that there is no credible evidence that Pinnacol has done anything wrong.
“All Pinnacol is guilty of is providing one of the most well managed, most affordable insurance systems that is available anywhere in the country for injured workers,” he said in a statement.
Lawmakers earlier this year attempted to take $500 million from Pinnacol’s $700 million surplus to help close the state budget’s shortfall. Though lawmakers ended up abandoning the plan after a meeting between Gov. Bill Ritter and Pinnacol Assurance executives, the legislature did pass a bill that in part called for a 16-person legislative interim committee to review Pinnacol.
Monday’s meeting was the committee’s third hearing. According to Colorado Senate Democrats, the hearings are to make sure policy holders are getting the best prices, that injured workers are getting medical care and that Pinnacol is stable and solvent.
“Today has been a tough reckoning on how we are doing in meeting the charge of ensuring workers compensation system includes a quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits at reasonable cost to employers without litigation,” said a statement from Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who is the chair of the Pinnacol committee. “We have heard from people who have lost everything — their jobs, homes, health and, in some cases, their limbs — and can’t even get minimal medical care. It’s heart-wrenching.”
Meanwhile, Republicans say the committee is a way to lay the groundwork to take money from the insurer next year. Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, added after the first committee hearing that the committee is also a way for Democrats to save face after unsuccessfully trying to get the $500 million from Pinnacol.
“The study is an exercise in a waste of time…and taxpayer money,” he said in a statement.
Pinnacol on Friday will make their own a presentation to the committee where they will describe their operation and “tell the story of how we have lowered workers’ compensation rates, paid dividends, maintained high customer satisfaction scores and honored our commitment to ensure that injured workers are treated with care and compassion and receive timely and appropriate medical care,” according to Ross.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters