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2005 duPont Award Winners: ‘State of Denial’

Jan 10, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A group of doctors came to WFAA-TV investigative producer Mark Smith in 2003 and asked him to tell the other side of the workers’ compensation story.

“What we all assumed anytime we heard ‘workers’ comp’ was that’s the system in which workers fake their injuries and doctors overtreat,” said Brett Shipp, the investigative reporter at WFAA, the Belo-owned ABC station in Dallas.

But that myth couldn’t have been further from what was happening. Insurance companies were routinely denying basic medical benefits for injured workers to increase their profits.

“We saw what was happening to these workers and how they were absolutely living in hell, and how they were being tortured not only by their pain but by their lack of benefits,” Mr. Shipp said. The situation worsened for workers after 2002, when insurance companies began slashing reimbursements and increasingly denying claims in response to legislative changes.

The first piece aired in November 2003 and WFAA has done about 25 segments since, including stories of workers committing suicide after they had been repeatedly denied care. Mr. Shipp and Mr. Smith continue to follow the developments.

“People have lost their homes, their cars,” Mr. Smith said. “When you are denied medical care, you can’t go back to work. You are financially devastated. Some marriages are destroyed and some individuals are literally homeless.”

Changes have been made in Texas. The chairman and the executive director of the Texas Workmen’s Compensation Commission left, and a legislative panel has recommended the commission be abolished and a new system installed under the state Department of Insurance to ensure injured workers are treated more quickly and adequately.

The duPont Award is Mr. Shipp’s second and the station’s eighth.