Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rare Agreement in Comp

It seems that SB 863 and its aftermath is doing a bit more to bring the interests of injured workers and their employers closer together than previously thought.

The issue upon which there seems to be agreement concerns the certification of interpreters for medical appointments and the immediate effective date of regulations implementing the requirement - because the Division of Workers' Compensation had already completed the formal rule making process by its certificate of compliance filed with the Office of Administrative Law, the rules took effect immediately despite a request by DWC to delay the effective date to October.

Though interpreters could get "provisional certification" with agreement of the claims administrator, adjusters aren't always available to grant status and there isn't sufficient time to get formal certification from the two commissions authorized by the rules to provide certification.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters says on its website that it can take 11 to 19 weeks from the time an interpreter applies to take its exam until the interpreter has the results of the test. The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters says it can take 12 to 18 weeks to complete the process.

So Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, amended AB 1376 to say the DWC interpreter certification rules will take effect on March 1, 2014. Hernandez also declared his bill an emergency measure and added language saying, “In order to avoid jeopardizing injured workers’ access to medically necessary services, it is necessary that this bill take effect immediately.”

The bill as introduced would have transferred the authority for creating and maintaining the list of certified interpreters for administrative hearings from the Department of Human Resources to the Division of Workers’ Compensation beginning in 2018, which makes some sense in my mind since the interpreters will be providing services under the workers' compensation laws.

Gilbert Calhoun, president of the California Workers’ Compensation Interpreters Association, told WorkCompCentral he thinks the bill amendments are good.

Jesse Ceniceros, president of Voters Injured at Work, said he sponsored the amendments to the bill to head off the possibility that injured workers would be cut off from treatment because an interpreter wasn’t available.

Jason Schmelzer, a lobbyist for the California Coalition on Workers’ Compensation, told WorkCompCentral employers “gave the green light” after reviewing proposed amendment language before it was added to AB 1376.

And the California Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Jeremy Merz said the Chamber is aligned with CCWC.

Finally carriers seem on board too - Mark Sektnan, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies, agreed the amendments are necessary to give interpreters time to comply with the rules.

Imagine that - everyone on board for a change that seems to be in the best interests of injured workers with limited English skills; probably the single greatest sub-population that needs workers' compensation treatment and services.

AB 1376 is up for a third and final vote in the Senate, which can act on the bill at any time this week.

If the Senate passes the bill, it will go back to the Assembly, which must concur with the Senate amendments before the measure could be presented to Gov. Jerry Brown.

There are four days left to get this done as the Legislature adjourns Friday.

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