Montana House Committee Endorses Workers’ Comp Reform Bill

The Montana House Business and Labor Committee has endorsed a bill to reform the state’s workers’ compensation system. Among other things, HB 334 workers’ comp reform bill aims to provide for the closure of claims, provide a process to reopen medical claims, establish a medical director and medical review panel, and revise permanent partial disability benefits.

The bill defines permanent partial disability as “a physical condition in which a worker, after reaching maximum medical healing:

(a) has a Class 2 or greater class of permanent impairment, as determined by the sixth edition of the American medical association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, that is established by objective medical findings for the ratable condition. The ratable condition must be a direct result of the compensable injury or occupational disease and may not be based exclusively on complaints of pain.

(b) is able to return to work in some capacity but the permanent impairment impairs the worker’s ability to work; and

(c) has an actual wage loss as a result of the injury.”

The bill, which the Independent Insurance Agents of Montana called the “most important workers’ comp bill introduced so far in the (2011 legislative) session,” also would end medical benefits for work-related injuries five years after the injury, and create a list of physicians that injured workers must use, instead of allowing them to see any doctor of their choice.

Bill sponsor Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork, told Montana Watchdog that the bill would bring savings of 20 percent to 44 percent in the first year alone, or guaranteed savings of $84 million to $183 million.

Labor groups, however, have complained that the cost of creating such savings in the workers’ comp system would be at the expense of injured workers.

“House Bill 334 is moving through the House of Representatives and takes a very aggressive approach to revising the workers’ compensation system,” said Bob Biskupiak of the Big “I.”

The bill now is headed for the Appropriations committee.