Legislatures in Several States Consider Work Comp Reforms

Liz Carey

Richmond, VA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Last week, the Virginia House of Representatives Commerce and Labor Committee killed three bills intended to reform the workers’ compensation system there.

The bills would have required employers and employees to agree on a doctor to examine an injured worker; made insurers pay claims for injured workers without healthcare benefits while investigating claims; and required doctors to treat injured workers as they would any other patient.

And in Florida, the House of Representatives passed a Workers’ Compensation bill, HB 7009, that would reform workers’ compensation in that state by establishing a maximum reimbursement allowances, extending timeframes for employees may receive certain workers’ compensation benefits and revises provisions in regards to retainer agreements and attorney fees.

And in Pennsylvania, legislators will consider legislation introduced in both houses (HB 18 and SB 936) that would create a drug formulary to help combat the state’s opioid crisis.

Across the country, states are grappling with workers’ compensation reform as they try to balance what is fair to workers, as well as employers.

Last year, workers’ compensation reform was a key sticking point in the two-year budget battle between Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled legislature. The stand-off resulted in the state heading precariously toward bankruptcy, and no real reform for workers’ compensation. Gov. Rauner wanted reductions in workers’ compensation coverage, while the Rep. Mike Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, wanted more restraint on the insurance industry.

Gov. Rauner said lower premium rates would help bring businesses back to Illinois, which has seen an exodus of businesses from the state.

Steve Brown, spokesman for Madigan, said he expected workers’ compensation reform would come up again this year.

“I suspected there will be workers’ compensation that comes up. …I suspect it will be on the agenda at some point,” Brown told WorkersCompensation.com. “The governor is really anti-worker and continues to want to go after worker pay checks and worker benefits. Our attitude is that we’ve taken away from workers, we’ve taken away from doctors. Now we need to look at insurance companies and see what we can do there.”

Those issues of competition for business and jobs, while protecting the rights of workers are weighing heavily on state law makers from New York to California.

Another issue getting play across the country is expanded workers’ compensation benefits to first responders and public safety officers. In Florida, legislation to cover mental injuries like PTSD in first responders was introduced in both the House and the Senate.

In Virginia, legislation was introduced this year that would include correctional officers under a provision that entitles public safety officers with workers’ compensation if they develop ailments that stem from the stress of their jobs — including hypertension, heart disease and other ailments.

In California, Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, introduced legislation that would provide first responders with workers’ compensation coverage if they respond to incidents while off-duty. The legislation is in response to last year’s Las Vegas shooting, where several California police officers were injured as they tried to help concert goers, but were denied benefits.

David Miller, spokesman with Assemblyman Daly’s office, told WorkersCompensation.com that Daly introduced the legislation on Jan. 3 and that he expects it to pass.

Other states will also look at legislation to control the opioid epidemic. Pennsylvania’s legislature has introduced bills that would create a drug formulary to control opioid prescriptions, while Missouri Legislator Holly Rehder said she will continue to pursue legislation that would address opioid addiction like requiring enhanced training for prescribers and requiring insurance coverage of medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment.

Rehder, who has sponsored previous legislation to create a prescription drug monitoring program, said she feel those issues will be less likely to pass, thanks to a county-by-county tracking program.

“We need to look at what are some of these other policies that could be helpful with this epidemic,” Rehder told St. Louis Today.