Finally, Wash. Legislators Agree on Workers’ Comp Reform

By | June 6, 2011

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Speaker Frank Chopp, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt and House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt announced the Legislature finally has come to an agreement on workers’ compensation in the special legislative session. Lawmakers had been stymied for weeks on how to cut costs in the workers’ comp system. But eventually, the workers’ comp reforms were passed by both the House and Senate by about three-to-one margins.

The deal is projected to save approximately $900 million over the next four years. As part of the agreement, an injured worker age 55 and older would have the option to take claims settlement of periodic payments, until the claim is paid.

“This session we have made significant progress to create a sustainable workers’ compensation system that benefits both our workforce and employers. We established Centers of Occupational Health Excellence and a medical provider network to deliver proven, high-quality health care services. Yet we recognize there is more to be accomplished,” Gov. Gregoire said. She noted she had three goals for reform:

  • Get injured workers back on the job as quickly as possible;
  • Avoid double-digit rate increases; and
  • Bend the cost curve on escalating pension costs.

“Among several provisions, the agreement … promotes getting workers back on the job faster, freezes COLAs to ensure parity with others and provides the option of a structured claims settlement. This option will be one of three available to injured workers and is voluntary, negotiated and allows legal representation,” Gregoire said.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, who blocked previous workers’ comp reform proposals, said the agreement “is a fair deal for injured workers – in fact, for all workers. … And it’s a fair deal for the 73 percent of injured workers over age 55 who cannot go back to work to be offered more options while keeping important safeguards in place. The structured disability settlements in this proposal are a much better alternative for these workers than lump sum compromise and release. It allows them some flexibility in the amount and timing of their payments while providing certainty that they will not be pressured or intimidated into accepting a one-time check and then left on their own for the rest of their lives.”

Labor groups had opposed limited settlements because they believe they could lead injured workers to accept less benefits than they would otherwise be entitled to receive.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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