Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Money is on Reform

California Governor Jerry Brown has said in the recent past that he will not approve piecemeal workers' compensation legislation and that he wants to see a broad reform measure.

With just one day to go in the legislative session, the broad reform measure, SB 863, is still being bandied about. Though Assembly Insurance Committee chairman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, said during Tuesday’s hearing that there would be additional opportunities for the public to provide testimony on the bill before it is sent to the governor, as of Wednesday, no hearings had been scheduled.

But three unrelated bills, with some overlap, have made it out of the legislature and are on the way to Brown's desk.

AB 2451, by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles provides that survivors of a police officer or firefighter who dies from heart disease, hernia, pneumonia, cancer, tuberculosis, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or bloodborne infectious disease, must file for death benefits within 480 weeks from the date of injury, doubling the current 240-week deadline, or one year after death due to the condition.

The Assembly on Tuesday also approved AB 2493, by Roger Hernandez, D-San Gabriel Valley, that would authorize the Division of Workers’ Compensation to certify and maintain a list of interpreters for medical exams and administrative hearings, a provision that is also included in SB 863. The interpreter certification would be performed by “an independent organization designated by the administrative director.”

SB 1513 by Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair, would allow State Fund to invest up to 20% of its surplus in stocks, mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, as well as in stock of the Federal Home Loan Bank.

Will Brown sign these bills if SB 863 isn't in the same pile of papers? Last year he said he would not approve anything without broad reform, but he still found it in his heart to approve legislation that brought compound drugs under the state's pharmacy fee schedule, and requires insurers to provide written disclosure to California employers if the policy has a provision that requires disputes to be arbitrated or resolved in courts outside of California.

In the meantime, the California Department of Insurance has scheduled a public hearing on the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) Jan. 1, 2013, pure premium rate filing for September 24 in San Francisco. It certainly will be interesting to see what numbers WCIRB sets forth should SB 863 be part of the equation.

Other measures still awaiting a final vote in the Senate include:
  • AB 808 which would create a presumption that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is compensable in hospital workers.
  • AB 1687 authorizing attorney fees when an injured worker with an award of future medical care hires an attorney and successfully appeals a utilization review decision to delay, deny or modify a recommended treatment.
  • AB 1454 authorizing audiologists to serve as qualified medical evaluators.
In the meantime, SB 863 continues to be divisive.

Proponents thus far include the Department of Industrial Relations, Small Business California, the California Professional Society of Specialty Contractors, School Employers Association, Schools Insurance Authority, California Association of Joint Powers Authority, California Labor Federation, United Auto Workers and California Professional Firefighters.

Some unions oppose SB 863 and many special interest groups have registered their opposition: California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, SEIU Local 121 and the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, California Society of Industrial Medicine and Surgery, California Hospital Association, California Orthopedic Association, California Ambulatory Surgery Center, Latino Comp, the League of United Latin American Citizens and Voters Injured at Work.

I'm not generally a gambling man. Sure, I take many, many risks, but well calculated risks. Regardless, I'm placing my bet.

Given the politics of the present situation and the power and size of the groups supporting SB 863 compared to those who oppose it, my money is that Gov. Brown's quill will ink broad reform, along with a couple of the other "piecemeal" items.

I have just a few hours to find out if I'm a winner.


  1. Is this really reform, or is it really an attempt by Industry to close down Workers' Compensation as a medical delivery program. It sure looks like it is going to a managed medical care system edging slowly toward universal medical care. If the workers' compensation program becomes too difficult to navigate, then injured workers will no alternative but to seek collateral benefits. Is this an effort by California to shift responsibility from Industry to others by making constructing even more obstacles?

  2. Unfortunately...your prediction is probably correct...workers comp isn't really about injured's a political 863 is horse trading of political usual, just follow the special interest & the $money$...the people of California and the directly effect parties (injured workers) simply lose each & every-time....they are convenient sacrificial lambs