Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Just One Day, It's Evident Change is in the Air

Spring is around the corner and change is in the air.

My general rule is that workers' compensation "reform" occurs about every seven to ten years, and looking at this morning's WorkCompCentral headlines would confirm that generality.

Wisconsin leads the headlines with an "agreed bill" sailing through the state Senate with provisions to increase permanent disability benefits -- with the cost potentially offset by changing a formula to reduce medical bills.

Senate Bill 409 by Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, now goes to the House of Representatives, where the agreed bill has been introduced as Assembly Bill 499 by Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan. The Senate approved the bill 33 to 0.

In California the state Department of Industrial Relations, the parent agency of the Division of Workers' Compensation, will hold six, four-hour public forums throughout the state between April 10 and April 30. Forums will be held in Fresno, La Mesa, Los Angeles, Oakland, West Sacramento and San Bernardino.

The department said it is seeking comments on medical provider networks, utilization review, improving return-to-work, increasing permanent disability benefits, reducing the burdens of liens and unnecessary litigation, appropriate use of opiates and other medical care. The administration says that the information gathered will be analyzed and used to determine how the administration will proceed with reform proposals.

The forums combined with a report just released by the California Workers' Compensation Institute concluding that back injuries without spinal cord involvement account for one out of six claims in the California workers' compensation system, and one in four benefit dollars paid, will undoubtedly fuel some upcoming change proposals in the state.

In Kansas the Committee on Commerce and Economic Development of the Kansas House of Representatives has introduced legislation that would amend procedures for requesting a change of administrative law judges in workers' compensation cases and that would shift responsibility for the workplace health and safety program for state workers.

House Bill 2558 also alters when the time limitations commence on a claim by applying the same rule to all claims so that no time limitations may commence under the Act until the employer has filed a report with the director, after the employee has given notice to the employer.

The Maine Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee held its first hearing of 2012 on a proposed committee version of Legislative Document 1571, which would cap benefits for injuries involving permanent partial disability, change the method of selecting members of the Maine Workers' Compensation Board and increase maximum weekly benefits.

And don't forget that Oklahoma is running along with major proposed changes including a provision that allows employers to opt out of workers' compensation.

All this in just one day. 2012 is going to be a very active "reform" year.

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