Monday, May 23, 2011

Deal on Workers' Comp Reform

AWB reports the latest update, after substantial negotiations Sunday, Saturday, and Friday, a deal was finally struck between the five corners on a workers’ comp reform bill for 2011.

Its major highlights include:

  • The “Stay at Work” program return to work subsidy for state fund employers
  • The prior PPD offset and no interest on periodic PPD payments
  • A one year freeze in the COLA payment with no catch-up, and a delay in next year’s COLA payment
  • The “rainy day fund”
  • An occupational disease study
  • SHIP grants continuation
  • A directive on a worker/provider fraud prevention initiative
  • A JLARC performance audit on claims management

By far the most contentious piece is the introduction of voluntary settlements to Washington. Settlements are allowed in this package, subject to the following basic constraints:

  • Age 55 and older at first, phased down to age 50 by 2016
  • Settlement award must be paid out periodically (i.e., structured settlement), with an up front payment of six times the state’s average monthly wage (SAMW) and then the remainder paid out over a period specified by the parties, with the periodic payment no less than 25% of the SAMW (about $1,000) and no more than 150% of the SAMW (a little over $5,000).
  • Same basic sideboards and constraints as in HB 2109, i.e., IAJ review for pro se workers, Board approval for all, etc.
  • Attorney’s fees capped at 15% for settlements

Some details we just won’t know until the language comes out.  The idea is to run it first in the House Monday morning. Then in the Senate Monday evening.

The Governor held a press conference on this with the four corners’ leadership at 6pm. Once TVW gets the video loaded, you’ll be able to view it from this page.   would highly encourage watching it once it’s available as it may answer some of your questions about the political ambience of this all.

As you assess all this, remember Bismarck’s maxim: “Politics is the art of the possible.” This package is much less than what we wanted; more than what we have now. It’s a good first step and we should thank the bipartisan cast of legislators whose holding firm on positions early on and in negotiations this weekend helped attain as much flexibility and reform as “possible” under the political constraints.

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