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Despite lobbying by insurers, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer vetoed insurer-supported legislation that would have reversed recent state court rulings that liberally interpreted the state's 1991 workers comp reform law.
The measure would have reversed a Colorado Court of Appeals decision in Mountain City Meat Co. and Colorado Compensation Insurance Authority vs. the Industrial Claim Appeals Office and Emiliano Oqueda. The court ruled in that case that when an injured worker sustains both scheduled and non-scheduled injuries, the losses must be measured as a whole-person impairment.
However, in a letter to the governor, Ronald Cobb, a vp with the American Insurance Assn., wrote that this was not the intent of the Colorado General Assembly when it passed the 1991 reform law. Those reforms, he wrote, intended that scheduled injuries remain on the schedule and that non-scheduled injuries be compensated as medical impairment benefits.
The bill also would have prohibited workers comp claims for mental or emotional stress to be combined with a schedule injury.
The governor explained in a letter accompanying his veto of that bill and a companion measure that the legislation would have reduced benefits to injured workers who have mental impairment arising from on-the-job injuries.
"Since the passage of Senate Bill 91-218 six years ago, I have worked with business, labor organizations and the Legislature to craft workable solutions to ensure a workers comp system that is equitable and fair to both employees and employers. We need to continue working together in the future to make any changes to the workers compensation system," Gov. Romer wrote.
The governor also pointed out that neither bill had been reviewed by the workers comp review group he had appointed to analyze the situation (BI, May 12).
Montana's governor has signed into law two workers comp-related bills passed by the Legislature.
The first bill makes several changes, particularly to the state compensation fund, including: allowing the state workers comp fund to provide dividends to policyholders beginning July 1, 1998; authorizing the fund to contract with licensed insurance agents to sell workers comp insurance; and authorizing the state fund to provide additional coverage for employers with multi-state operations.
The bill also clarified that an insurance company has to respond to a claim within 30 days or it may be fined.
Another reform law raises the workers comp hospital reimbursement schedule to better reflect the true cost of treating workers compensation injuries.
In Utah, lawmakers approved a bill that creates a "Blue Ribbon Workers' Compensation Commission" to study the possible privatization of the Workers Compensation Fund of Utah, the statutorily designated insurer of last resort in the state.
Other issues the 15-member commission will study and report on by November include a proposal for the fund to expand its insurance activities and how the fund should serve the residual market. The legislation provides that members of the commission include the insurance commissioner, legislators, insurers, employers and employees.
The Wyoming Legislature passed several reforms related to workers comp, most of which were minor technical amendments to existing laws.
There was, however, one significant reform measure that clarifies that the Wyoming Workers Compensation Act applies in situations where the injury or death:
Occurs in Wyoming and the employment is principally localized in the state.
Occurs outside of Wyoming but the employment is principally localized in Wyoming.
Occurs outside of Wyoming but the employee was hired in Wyoming for work that is not localized in any state but is in the United States, Canada or Mexico and the employer has a principal place of business in the state.
Occurs outside of Wyoming, the employer has a principal place of business in Wyoming, the employee was hired in Wyoming for work that is localized in another state or Canada or Mexico, but the laws of the jurisdiction where the work is localized do not require workers comp coverage in that state.
All the Wyoming legislation was signed into law.
There was no significant workers comp legislative activity in Idaho or in Nevada, where the Legislature is still in session.
Alaska enacted reforms that, in some cases, deny workers comp benefits to an employee who knowingly makes a false statement about a physical condition in response to a medical inquiry or examination after a conditional offer of employment. The law took effect with the governor's signature on May 27.
In California, both insured and self-insured employers are coming out against legislation that would increase workers comp disability benefits.
The bill, backed by the state Federation of Labor, would:
Increase maximum temporary total disability benefits; permanent partial disability benefits; and life pension benefits, which are paid to people with 70% or greater disability after permanent partial disability awards have been exhausted.
Provide full death benefits for the rest of their lives to dependent widows or widowers of employees whose deaths are caused by employment-related activities.
The bill passed the Assembly June 4. Similar legislation passed the Senate the same day. Both bills now are in committees in the opposite houses.
Californians for Compensation Reform, a coalition of employers, and the California Self-Insurers Assn. both have come out against the measures.
Other workers comp measures being considered in California include bills that would:
Pay workers comp benefits in the case of the death of a health worker or public safety employee due to HIV-related disease. The bill is currently before the Senate Committee on Industrial Relations, having passed the Assembly.
Include painters in both the private and public sectors among those for whom cancer is presumed to be compensable. This bill is awaiting vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Entitle an employee who does not speak or understand English proficiently to receive the services of a qualified interpreter when the employee submits to an examination by a designated treating physician. This bill passed the Senate and now is in the Assembly's Industrial Relations Committee.
Permit a greater percentage of the $4,500 in annual vocational rehabilitation service benefits to be used for job placement services. It also would increase the number of days that might be used to assist in placement to 90 days from 60 days with the possibility of 60 more if the parties agree. This bill has passed the Senate and now goes to the Assembly.
A bill that would change the distribution of money to fight fraud to a 40%-40% distribution to the district attorneys' offices and the Insurance Department has passed the Assembly and is in the Senate Industrial Relations Committee. The remaining 20% would be distributed based on the Insurance Commissioner's discretion. Currently the district attorneys and the Insurance Department split the money 50%-50%. The bill was introduced because the district attorneys requested more money than the Insurance Department, and there was no mechanism to respond to that request.
Hawaii's governor signed into law a bill that requires workers comp insurers to provide employers with at least a 5% premium discount if the employer maintains an effective safety and health program.
Oregon legislation awaiting the governor's signature would overturn a court ruling that forces employers and insurers to appeal compensation determination orders issued by the Workers Compensation Division if the division awards permanent partial disability for conditions not specifically accepted by the insurer.
Failure to appeal an award was held to imply that the employer and insurer accepted their obligation to compensate those conditions in the future, according to the court ruling. As a result, the ruling prompted excessive litigation as employers and insurers sought to limit future exposures for conditions that may never require further treatment.
The legislation would clarify earlier court rulings so that employers and insurers would better understand which cases may require treatment.
Washington's governor signed into law a measure allowing public hospital districts to self-insure their workers comp exposures. The law takes effect July 27.