Workers’ Compensation Legislation Re-emerging as Priority
Legislation to address employers' workers' compensation insurance costs "remains high on lawmakers' radar screens" despite efforts to overhaul the system over the last two years, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Legislators this year have introduced more than three dozen bills addressing workers' compensation insurance. According to the Bee, the measures "run the gamut" from suspending temporary disability benefits and treatment for workers who leave the state for more than two weeks, to tightening insurance requirements for roofing contractors and revising insurance premium rate regulations and doctors' fees.
Some experts say that many of the new bills are "considered placeholders for future legislation" that could "reignite debate" over reforming the state workers' compensation insurance system, the Bee reports.
Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno), who authored the workers' compensation reform bill (SB 899) enacted last year, has introduced legislation that would increase anti-fraud funding for prosecutors, permit state employee unions to participate in an ombudsman program and allow small and mid-sized companies to establish self-insurance consortiums.
Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee Chair Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys) also recently reintroduced a bill (SB 46) that would allow the state to establish a workers' compensation rate-setting commission.
Other bills include:
AB 681, by Assembly member Juan Vargas (D-Chula Vista), which would freeze a 5% reduction in physician fees through 2010;
AB 1549, by Assembly member Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), which would qualify acupuncturists as medical providers and permit some specialists -- including dentists, chiropractors and psychologists -- to be considered independent medical reviewers; and
- SB 538, by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles), which would require new medical provider networks and health care organizations to be evaluated on their ability to provide adequate treatment to injured workers.
According to the Bee, the debate over workers' compensation insurance "will start heating up in early summer" after premium rates adjustments for the second half of 2005 go into effect and legal challenges to new medical networks and permanent disability rules are resolved.
California Manufacturers and Technology Association lobbyist Willie Washington said, "You would like to think (after) a major reform effort like SB 899 all would be calm. People are trying to protect or defend different areas. They don't go away."
American Insurance Association spokesperson Nicole Mahrt said, "Some people want to reopen the battle. Undermining the reforms is the wrong thing to do."
Poochigian said, "We remain committed to making sure the job gets finished" (Chan, Sacramento Bee, 3/8).