Lawmakers Propose Numerous Workers’ Compensation, Health Coverage Bills
State lawmakers have introduced numerous bills aimed at decreasing the cost of workers' compensation and reducing double-digit health insurance premium increases, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Assembly Republicans have introduced legislation to lower workers' compensation costs, while Democratic Assembly members have proposed "pay or play" legislation that would require employers who do not offer health coverage to employees to pay into a state fund to provide coverage to the uninsured (Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/8). However, agreements on workers' compensation legislation have been "difficult to come by" as a number of "powerful groups with frequently conflicting interests -- insurers, businesses, unions, health care providers and attorneys -- have a stake in the system," the Los Angeles Times reports (Lawrence, Los Angeles Times, 4/7). Under California's workers' compensation system, injured workers receive free treatment in exchange for not suing employers.
One bill proposed by Republicans would eliminate benefit increases approved last year by Gov. Gray Davis (D). A proposal by Democrats, which is endorsed by Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi (D), would mandate that workplace injuries be treated through the regular health care system. Further, a bill (SB 2) by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) would require businesses to provide employees and their dependents with health coverage but would let employers pass on as much as 20% of health care costs to employees; the bill would require companies that do not offer health coverage to pay into a state fund designated for employee health insurance coverage. In addition, a bill (SB 921) introduced by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) would create a state-run health system administered by an elected health care czar. While groups such as the California Medical Association support employer-sponsored health coverage, groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce maintain that small businesses cannot afford the additional costs (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/8). Davis also is expected to introduce his own proposal to reduce workers' compensation costs (Los Angeles Times, 4/8).
Republican and Democratic lawmakers are searching for a "potential deal" that will "[u]nite the two sides and develop some mutually beneficial treatment" for both health care and workers' compensation issues, columnist George Skelton writes in a Times opinion piece. According to Skelton, the answer may be found in a proposal that would expand Burton's "pay or play" health insurance bill by shifting medical care for work-related injuries from the workers' compensation system to regular health insurance. Just as there is "elective surgery" in medicine that is "not absolutely necessary, but recommended," expansion of medical care is "highly recommended for a healthy California," and "the sooner the better," Skelton concludes (Skelton, Los Angeles Times, 4/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.