In Montana, workers’ comp reform is leaning toward reducing benefits for injured workers
As a follow-up to our preceding post, we see that a top-ranking legislator in Illinois has joined with other lawmakers calling for an investigation of the state workers’ compensation program.
According to a Feb. 26 article at BND.com, “Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has introduced a bi-partisan resolution calling for an audit of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation program ‘as it applies to state employees.’
“The resolution, H.R. 131, was filed Thursday and is co-sponsored by state Reps. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville; Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon; and Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.”
Resolution calls for a deep dig into the workings of the system
The overall resolution comprises eight sub-parts, extending the audit to include, but not be limited to:
- the roles of three separate agencies, including the Attorney General’s office and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission in processing, reviewing, determining, and paying on workers’ compensation claims filed by State workers
- the number of claims filed by State workers during the last 4 years, including a classification of the types of alleged injuries, employing unit, disposition, and claims payments.
The other six areas range from reviewing the settlement process and analyzing fraud policies to analyzing arbitrator caseloads and reviewing conflict of interest practices. Besides the audit, calls also have been made for a federal probe.
From emergency hikes to peeks at bankruptcy in Washington
Another story we’ve been following is the fight in Washington state over workers’ comp, which The Seattle Times calls “one of the most contentious issues in the legislative session.” In February, an emergency rate hike was pushed through, and in January the governor was being praised for a “bold plan” to revamp the system.
Now, despite progress on different bills, officials are saying hard choices loom ahead, with chances of having a bankrupt system within five years, according to a Feb. 26 piece in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which reports that the governor, “the head of the state Department of Labor and Industries and the state auditor have all said the system is heading toward bankruptcy. In a December report, the auditor’s office said the state’s fund for workers compensation has a 95 percent chance of becoming insolvent in the next five years.”
The Seattle Times story says, “Workers compensation is closed-loop insurance system in which businesses pay payroll taxes, and the state invests the money. But the state’s accident fund is in the red for $275 million.”
Pensions…and the governor’s plan
As in a variety of states around the country, pensions are a sticking point in this fight.
According to The Olympian, “Gregoire and L&I’s proposals include House Bill 2002, which labor supports. It is an Oregon-style approach that pays an incentive to small businesses of up to 50 percent of a worker’s wage if they let the worker return for limited duties while mending from injuries.
“But Gregoire and L&I also want to limit lifelong disability pensions. Business groups have complained about those costs for years, but they haven’t persuaded the Democrat-controlled House and Senate to give them relief from what they contend are expensive pensions.”
L&I director Judy Schurke told the paper that “the system could save $720 million over four years if all four elements of the governor’s reform are approved. ‘All I can tell you is the governor is very committed to it,’ Schurke remarked at the time.”
Montana’s injured workers could be a casualty in reform battle
In another follow-up, the battle in Montana seems to have simmered down–at a cost to injured workers. A Feb. 23 report from a news site in Kalispell, MT, says that “The Montana House of Representatives on Wednesday put the final stamp of approval on a bill aimed at reforming the workers compensation system.
“Legislators brought two competing bills this session. State Senator Ryan Zinke (R-Whitefish) is carrying the first bill which saves money by cutting provider rates. State Representative Scott Reichner (R-Bigfork) is carrying the other bill which saves money by cutting benefits to injured workers.”
The former died in committee; Reichner’s bill passed.
According to a Feb. 25 account in the Great Falls Tribune, the bill is partisan, a GOP product:
The House passed a bill this week that they say will lead to a 20 percent reduction in costs to employers by July, and an up to 45 percent decrease over three years.
Democrats said the workers’ compensation bill, which passed on a party line vote, is “broke.”
“It doesn’t do what it needs to reform the system. It takes the biggest chunk out of the hide of the worker, and it did not address the true cost problem,” [House Minority Leader John Sesso, (D-Butte)] said.
He said that under the GOP workers’ compensation bill, providers and insurance companies are not asked to “pay their fair share to bring the system back in line with economic reality.”
Frequently enough, a worker’s compensation case may be so complex as to demand legal representation. However, sometimes what seems like a cut-and-dried situation to an injured worker may result in a smaller award than envisioned–or even a denial. Have you, a friend or a loved one been injured on the job? Whether you’re merely seeking answers about your rights or believe a lawsuit may be necessary, be sure to seek counsel with attorneys trained and experienced in workers’ compensation. Here’s some resources: