A House committee has advanced legislation updating the workers’ compensation program for federal employees.
The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed with unanimous support the Federal Workers’ Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act (H.R. 2465).
The workers’ compensation program, established by the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), is operated by the Department of Labor and covers an about three million federal employees. During the last fiscal year, beneficiaries received nearly $3 billion in compensation.
Lawmakers said the program has not been significantly updated in almost 40 years, resulting in a number of weaknesses and inefficiencies. For example, workers in rural areas often have limited access to medical care and only certain medical professionals can certify a worker’s disability. Additionally, compensation is often determined by outdated information.
Supporters said the bill will reform the federal workers’ compensation program by encouraging best practices in medical treatment and developments; granting greater authority to the Department of Labor to verify the earnings of workers using Social Security rrcords; and modernizing the benefits federal workers receive.
The measure also streamlines the claims process for workers who sustain a traumatic injury in a designated zone of armed conflict; authorizes the labor department to collect administrative costs and expenses from the federal agency that employs the injured or ill worker; ensures injuries sustained as the result of terrorism are covered as a war-risk hazard; and provides additional support for funeral expenses (up to $6,000) and for workers who sustain an injury that leads to facial disfigurement (up to $50,000).
“I am pleased we’ve been able to work together and move forward with commonsense reforms that will improve the efficiency of the federal workers’ compensation program and promote better use of taxpayer dollars,” said Chairman John Kline, R-Minn. “We can no longer afford to leave government programs on autopilot. I appreciate the bipartisan work of my colleagues, and look forward to building upon today’s effort to further strengthen this program
Other co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
The committee has also asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for guidance on other reforms it believes would improve the program.
The GAO is currently investigating fraud and abuse in program, looking for information on cases in which federal employees are currently abusing workers’ compensation benefits. It ahs set up
GAO said that fraud schemes might include a beneficiary working a second job, overstating their workers’ compensation claim, or collecting benefits for a deceased individual.
The GAO is asking those with information regarding fraud or abuse of the FECA program by federal employees to contact the GAO at its confidential reporting line at email@example.com.
Earlier this year, Senator Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, called for a thorough review of the program that she says is paying benefits to 49,000 people, some of them who are well into retirement age.
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