Monday, October 8, 2012

Money For [Almost] Nothing

SB 863 added new Labor Code section 4658.7, applicable only to injuries that occur on or after January 1, 2013.

4658.7 is the new supplemental job displacement benefit section and provides a "voucher" of up to $6,000 to an injured worker with a permanent partial disability who is not offered a job by the pre-injury employer within prescribed time frames.

The claims administrator pursuant to 4658.7 has 60 days in which to get the physician that declared the injured worker's disability permanent and stationary to review a job description and render an opinion as to suitability of further employment. The claims administrator, still within those 60 days, then needs to copy the employer with the physician's opinion, and the employer has to agree to employ the injured worker for at least 12 months.

The clock starts running from the date the first report indicating that all injuries are permanent and stationary and that there is permanent disability is "received".

While most of the $6,000 voucher requires some documentation or other verification that the money is going to be used towards retraining or obtaining another job, two provisions thus far (without further regulatory constriction) have most folks opining that $1,500 is just a give away.

4658.7(e)(5) says that "up to one thousand dollars" can be used to purchase "computer equipment". There is no further qualification for that money.

4658.7(e)(6) provides "Up to five hundred dollars ($500) as a miscellaneous expense reimbursement or advance, payable upon request and without need for itemized documentation or accounting. The employee shall not be entitled to any other voucher payment for transportation, travel expenses, telephone or Internet access, clothing or uniforms, or incidental expenses."

At the rule making hearing last Tuesday in Oakland, comments from participants were largely in agreement that these provisions consist of a $1,500 "give away." $500 has no strings attached to it, and I would think most anyone would like a new computer which generally can be purchased for $1,000 inclusive of software.

Florida has a similar situation with section 440.20(12)(c)(2), which was interpreted by the state's 1st District Court of Appeals in 2010, to require payment of a requested advance of up to $2,000 to any employee in the state, from whomever they request it, as long the person seeking the advance has either not returned to the same or similar employment following an alleged injury or has suffered a substantial loss of earning capacity.

Thus far in Florida, there is no good data to suggest that this "give away" has resulted in any significant impact on claims costs. It seems more a point of irritation than any great impact on the system, simply because the threshold for getting "free money" is so low and the settled law is that so long as the injured worker is "better off" with the money then it is payable.

Thus I suspect the same with the California provision - it doesn't seem that this will affect costs one way or the other for the most part. I think it will be a "sore point" for some who bemoan the entitlement mentality that sometimes pervades social systems - be that as it may, is it better or worse than the prior voucher system, or vocational rehabilitation that preceded that?

Honestly, I don't think it makes a difference one way or the other. Those who are serious about returning to work will probably not use the voucher provisions, and those that aren't serious about returning to work probably won't use the voucher beyond getting a new computer and some extra cash.

At least the administration of this benefit should cost less.

1 comment:

  1. In 1987 the average cost of a vocational training course for a rehab training plan was $6,500 to cover for tuition, tools and materials. So, 25 years later this bill determines that $6,000 is sufficient to pay for a program of studies intended to take an injured worker back to gainful employment. Consequently, an insurance carrier would pay less for vocational training today than in 1987. In which other industry can a company say that the cost of doing business today is lower than 25 years ago? Go figure. By the way, in 1987, the US national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was 95 cents - the equivalent of about $1.82 per gallon in 2010. But in 2010 the real cost of a gallon of gasoline was near $3 dollars and today is over $4 dollars; how in all honesty can an Insurance carrier allocate less money today for retraining??