Monday, October 10, 2011

CA's Brown Message - Reform in Total, or Don't

California Governor Jerry Brown has always been known to be relatively unpredictable and not one to tow the party line.

And so it is with workers' compensation.

Presented with a host of bills for signature, the Democratic governor vetoed those that many would have thought a liberal would sign.

His veto message to AB 947, that would have have allowed up to 240 weeks of temporary disability benefits for injured workers who are still recovering from surgery when the current 104-week cap is exhausted, may be indicative of some near future for California workers' compensation:

"It is vital that injured workers receive adequate compensation to provide for their needs when they are unable to work due to work-related injuries. Workers' compensation reforms, however, need to be addressed on a broad and balanced scale -- ensuring workers receive adequate and timely benefits and treatment, while also ensuring that the costs of the system are sustainable."

With respect to AB 211, which would have made $6,000 supplemental job displacement vouchers available to injured workers when the treating physician determines the injury is permanent and stationary and there will be some degree of permanent disability, Brown said, "I am however, reluctant to enact piecemeal changes to the workers' compensation system in the absence of more comprehensive reform that addresses both the cost and benefits under the system."

It was a bit curious that Brown vetoed AB 584, which would have limited utilization review to physicians licensed in California.

Brown said in his veto message that limiting utilization review to California-licensed physicians would be an abrupt change and incompatible with how utilization review is conducted by health care service plans.

"I am not convinced that establishing a separate standard for workers' compensation utilization review makes sense," Brown wrote.

Even AB 1155, which would have interposed additional language in the apportionment statute for the purpose of preventing discrimination on the basis of “immutable characteristics” such as race, gender, sexual orientation etc. was vetoed by the Governor.

Brown did sign Assembly Bill 378 which will bring compound drugs under the state's pharmacy fee schedule and Senate Bill 684, which will require insurers to provide written disclosure to California employers if the carrier includes in the employer's policy a provision that requires disputes to be arbitrated or resolved in courts outside of California.

Brown's executive theme appears to be that workers' compensation in California should be treated in its totality, and that provisions catering to special interests won't be allowed in isolation. 

In other words, only tit for a tat will be considered under the Brown Administration.

1 comment:

  1. According to DePaolo, "Jerry says it's about California, not partisan politics."

    Work Comp Central adds a few pithy comments to DePaolo's assessment.

    In its WCC release on 2011-10-10 we learn that "Brown's signature on the compound drugs bill and his vetoes of AB 211, AB 584, AB 947 and AB 1155 brought an immediate accolade from the Association of California Insurance Companies."

    Why not? Brown saved their bacon this year just as Schwarzenegger did last year. Every bit of legislation that would have improved the lives of injured workers was tossed overboard.

    Schwarzenegger and Brown both tilted heavily in favor of the insurance companies in ignoring the opinion of the Medical Board of California which said that utilization review is part of the practice of medicine. It turns out that accountants, dentists, lawyers, nurses, physicians and technologists are obliged to adhere to the opinions of their respective licensing boards.

    The Govenor claims to have relied on Knox-Keene legislation in opposing any and all legislative changes that would have eased the lives of injured workers. In a September 2011 letter to the Governor, the California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery stated that "merely because some Knox-Keene companies may be engaging in illegal activity without being prosecuted is not sufficient basis to condone it in workers' comp."

    We're unaware of attempts by Gov. Brown to assert prosecution against non-workers comp companies that violate Knox-Keene. So far what he has opposed is improving the lives of injured workers. It appears that both Schwarzenegger and Brown have cast their votes in a manner that appeases the insurance industry. They both earned and deserve the accolades bestowed upon them by the Association of California Insurance Companies.

    Robert L. Weinmann, MD, Editor,