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First responders, employee definition top workers comp legislation

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ORLANDO, Fla. — A large number of workers compensation bills proposed during the first quarter of 2015 involve first responders and the definition of an employee, speakers said at the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc.'s 2015 Issues Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

Sixty-five of the more than 600 relevant workers comp bills filed in the first quarter of 2015 deal with presumptive coverage for first responders, said NCCI's Ann Bok, practice leader and senior actuary of the actuarial and economic services division, and Lori Lovgren, division executive of state relations, on Thursday.

It's a topic that has come up a lot since the Sept. 11 attacks, Ms. Bok said during the session about regulatory and legislative trends.

Connecticut, which first proposed a first responders bill after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Ohio and South Carolina are among states that recently proposed regulations for presumptive coverage for emergency workers, whether paid or volunteer.

When such bills “first started coming out, we tried to price them,” Ms. Bok said. “We found that we had a lot of data limitations and, also, there were conflicting studies on occupational disease in firefighters, so it made it difficult to quantify the actual impact … Now we just provide a white paper when we get requests to price these types of bills.”

The next most popular types of bills filed during the first quarter of 2015 include the definition of an employee (37 bills), occupational diseases (36 bills), reimbursement and fee schedules (33 bills), and indemnity benefits (32 bills), Ms. Bok and Ms. Lovgren said.

The definition of an employee vs. an independent contractor or subcontractor has come up a lot lately, they said, referencing lawsuits involving ridesharing services like Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc., and the self storage and moving marketplace eMove Inc.

Meanwhile, there are “more proposals for increases in indemnity benefits than decreases,” Ms. Bok said. “Appropriate indemnity benefits are key to a healthy workers compensation system, as are the rates that go with them.”

Other proposals to keep an eye on this year include attorney fees, medical marijuana and opt-out legislation, Ms. Lovgren said.

There's a notion that “if you increase attorney fees, you're likely to increase attorney involvement,” Ms. Lovgren said. However, there are going to be complicated claims, and “injured workers are going to need assistance. If the compensation to attorneys is not enough for attorneys to assist, then there's going to be an access problem.”

Ms. Lovgren noted that the Florida Supreme Court will soon issue a decision in Castellanos v. Next Door Co. et al., which asks whether attorney fee caps are constitutional.

Regarding medical marijuana and opt-out legislation, Ms. Bok and Ms. Lovgren said “there are not a whole lot of answers yet, but a whole lot of questions.”