Gov. Brian Schweitzer has signed the compromise plan he worked out with Republican leaders to reduce workers’ compensation insurance rates universally regarded as among the most expensive in the country.
The bill marked the first big policy deal so far this session between Schweitzer, House Speaker Mike Milburn and Senate President Jim Peterson.
Supporters say it will cut work comp premiums by 40 percent within three years by trimming benefits to workers and cutting costs in other areas. Labor interests have been cool toward the deal, as have trial lawyers.
Labor representatives wanted a deal that took more of the savings from doctors and medical service providers instead of worker benefits they argue are not the cause of the cost problem.
HB 334 proposes closing benefits after five years, with a provision to re-open if necessary after a medical panel review; a part of the proposal is to require an impairment rating of at least Class 2, or “moderate” impairment, instead of “mild” in order to receive Permanent Partial Disability wage loss benefits; provide the ability for insurer and worker to agree to settle non-disputed medical benefits; make the insurer provide Stay at Work, or Return to Work programs and services, to assist workers with returning to the same, or a modified job; prohibit claims for workers’ compensation benefits in cases where employees are on breaks off the premises.
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