It appears certain the state’s Second Injury Fund is heading for bankruptcy; what to do about that is all but certain.

The Special Interim Committee on Second Injury Fund is holding hearings on the issue. Lawmakers made changes to the Second Injury Fund in 2005, but those changes won’t reduce costs in time to relieve the short-term problem of expenditures outpacing revenue by more than $57 million the next two years. Lawmakers differ on how they view the problem.

Rep. Steve Hunter (R-Joplin) objects to workers who make claims for non-work related injuries just prior to retiring. Hunter compares reaching a $60,000 settlement with the Second Injury Fund just before retirement to payola. He says it’s better than slots, because the odds of getting the pay-off are greater.

But Rep. John Burnett (D-Kansas City) counters that in order to get that payment, a worker must suffer a permanently disabling injury. He remarks that such workers don’t just get to hit this "slot machine" without suffering a physical injury that renders the worker permanently and totally disabled.

Though the hearing listened to a range of perceived problems with the fund, the real problem is the short-term. Audits indicate long-term stability due to the 2005 changes.

Hunter isn’t optimistic the legislature will approve a fix next year. He calls himself a realist in assessing the unlikelihood of approving changes to the Second Injury Fund during an election year.

Created in 1943, the Second Injury Fund provides benefits for disabled workers or workers injured on the job who suffered previous injuries.

A real question lingers out there for the committee. If the fund becomes insolvent, who is liable for payments to workers incurring a second injury?

Download/listen Brent Martin reports (:60 MP3)