Employees receiving workers’ compensation benefits for serious on-the-job injuries could potentially have to undergo follow-up medical examinations due to a bill signed by Gov. Tom Wolf – House Bill 1840 – which will aim to “correct” parts of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act that were ruled unconstitutional in June 2017.
According to a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the bill – signed into law by Gov. Wolf in late October – will require seriously injured employees receiving TTD benefits to undergo follow-up exams called impairment rating evaluations if they are requested by insurance carriers after two years from the initial date that they stopped working. The individual would be examined by a physician using guidelines from the American Medical Association – a practice that was ruled unconstitutional last year due to the prior law seemingly delegating judicial responsibility to the AMA (a private organization) – to determine the rate of which a worker is injured and unable to perform the basic duties of their job. If it’s less than 35 percent at the time of the appointment, the benefits could be label changed to “partial disability” and capped at $500/week. However, if it’s more than 35 percent, the injured worker would be deemed eligible for temporarily totally disabled status without caps.
The measure had been pushed for by state business groups, citing that workers’ compensation insurance rates were expected to rise dramatically within the next year. The provisions were struck down by the court last year, which led to a six percent increase in annual benefits costs – the highest increase in over 20 years. Insurance premiums rose by double-digit percentages.
Rebecca Oyler, state legislative director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, shed light on the bill in the following statement:
“Since the (June 2017) decision, workers’ comp premiums have risen significantly this year and could be expected to go even higher, creating financial hardship for small businesses in the state. With this legislative fix, members of the House and Senate helped assure stability and fairness in the system and control workers’ comp costs for employers.”
Is it really fair, though? Opponents of the new measure argued that the exams — called impairment rating evaluations — are another hurdle for workers that gives insurers wider latitude to limit benefits. And, even if an injured worker is indeed ruled more than 35 percent injured, there are still other measures employers and insurance carriers can take to limit their benefits. The bill requires workers’ compensation costs for insurers to be recalculated within 90 days of the law becoming effective.
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