Republican lawmakers began their latest push last week to revamp workers’ compensation, advancing a bill that would put time limits on benefits for some injured workers.
The provision calling for a 15-year cap from the date of injury drew the most attention during the initial review. It would apply to workers filing claims for permanent, partial disability due to on-the-job injuries. Currently, they are entitled to medical benefits for the duration of the disability.
The measure, House Bill 2, is backed by business interests and cleared the House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee on a party-line vote.
Opponents included a police officer worried that one of the key changes would hurt people like him who were injured on the job and endure ongoing health problems after returning to work.
The measure heads to the GOP-led House, which passed a similar measure last year.
The most severely injured, considered permanently, totally disabled, would still receive lifetime medical benefits, said Republican Rep. Adam Koenig, the bill’s lead sponsor.
The biggest disagreement Thursday was over putting the time limit on medical benefits for some injured workers.
Koenig said the change would not apply to people currently receiving workers’ comp benefits. It would affect future cases stemming from workplace injuries.
Louisville police officer Mike Clark, who was hit by a drunken driver in 2011, said the change would hurt workers like him who deal with lingering medical problems from work-related injuries. Clark told the committee he still deals with back pain.
“I know that down the road, this is going to be an issue that I’m going to have to address again,” Clark said.
The bill would allow workers facing the 15-year cutoff of medical benefits to apply for extensions every two years.
“For those who still need treatment, they’ll be able to get it,” Koenig said. “For those who don’t, they’ll be able to take those folks off the actuarial rolls, and it will result in reduced (workers’ compensation insurance) rates when fully implemented.”
The proposed extension didn’t appease the bill’s opponents.
“If you look at the steps and the hoops that you have to jump through to get it extended, as a practical matter very few people are going to get them extended,” said workers’ compensation attorney Ched Jennings.
The bill also drew sharp criticism from Democratic Rep. Al Gentry, who lost an arm in an injury years ago.
Gentry used his own experience as an example of how people who return to work can continue to suffer medical problems from an injury years earlier. He said he’s suffered arthritis, tendinitis and other problems in his other arm due to its overuse.
“I believe there is absolutely no medical or financial data that justifies stripping away medical benefits for our most vulnerable workers,” he said.
Koenig noted that three-fourths of workers’ comp premiums paid by employers go directly to claims costs, the highest rate nationally. Jennings countered that workers’ comp premiums have dropped for 12 years in Kentucky. He said premiums are down 60 percent from 2006 levels.
Other parts of the bill would:
- Increase the state average weekly wage.
- Put a time limit on the ability of injured workers to reopen a claim.
- Terminate indemnity benefits at age 67 or two years after an injury, whichever is later.
- Increase the cap on attorneys’ fees from $12,000 to $18,000.
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