|Author||Subject: Info about Oregon's Workers' Comp. Reform Package (SB 485)|
|Del|| Posted At 20:06:17 02/03/2001
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Legislative Update: No. 4
Friday, February 2, 2001
Workers’ Comp. Reform Package (SB 485) Will Extend Benefits to 10%-20% More Injured Workers…The Workers’ Compensation reform package negotiated by a labor-management task force and endorsed by our Executive Board last year was unveiled this week as Senate Bill 485.
SB 485-Sponsored by the Senate Committee on Business, Labor, and Economic Development at the request of Senator Gene Derfler (R-Salem) and Governor John Kitzhaber for Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon AFL-CIO. See last week’s Legislative Update for more details on the Workers’ Comp. agreements in the legislative package.
More Claims Will Be Accepted
With the introduction of the bill, the state’s Workers Compensation Division released a fiscal analysis showing that SB 485’s changes in “compensability standards” will lead to the acceptance of 20% more injury claims and 10% more occupational disease claims, providing $6.6 to $13.3 million per year in compensation for injured workers. These increased claims and benefits will result from new limitations on the use of “pre-existing conditions” to disqualify injured workers from benefits and a shift in the burden of proof to employers in order to deny workplace injury claims.
More Benefits Will Be Paid
In addition to recognizing more claims, SB 485 will increase maximum time loss benefits from 100% to 133% of the average weekly wage (for an extra $5.0 million per year) and provide extra compensation for injured workers who held more than one job at the time of injury.
SB 485 will also benefit injured workers by allowing them to refuse unreasonable demands to accept modified employment (e.g. because of the difficulty of commuting to a new work site) and by providing options for referrals to insurer medical examinations.
Cost Shifts Will Help Employers
Costs to employers will be mitigated by a shift in the source of funding for new and omitted medical conditions claims which are raised after five years from the date of claim closure. Those claims will now be paid from the Workers Benefit Fund. Also employers will gain relief with a modification of the Employer Liability Act (ELA), which allows workers in multi-employer settings to sue for damages from third parties. SB 485 modifies the ELA to establish a “comparative fault” (50%) standard for such lawsuits in the future. This change is expected to save employers between $1.0 and $2.4 million annually.
“Let’s Quit the Warfare…”
All told, these changes represent a “long overdue package of reforms to our Workers’ Comp. system,” Tim Nesbitt told the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday, when the committee opened hearings on the bill. Bob Shiprack, executive director of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, told the committee that the bill was developed because both business and labor realized it was time to make the system work better for injured workers. “Let’s just quit the warfare and sit down and fix these problems,” Shiprack told the ommittee.
Reflecting the labor-management consensus, Lisa Trussell of the Associated Oregon Industries strongly supported the bill as a meaningful compromise that maintained the most cost effective containment features of reforms negotiated by labor and management in 1990.
However, some self-insured employers, like Precision Castparts, have criticized SB 485 as too generous to injured workers and/or too expensive for employers, even though the state’s analysis predicts a premium increase for employers of no more than 2% a year. Also, trial lawyers are opposing any changes to the ELA.
The Management-Labor Advisory Committee on Workers’ Comp. will continue its own review of SB 485 on Monday, and the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Development Committee will reconvene its hearings later next week.
Legislative information, including all bills and amendments, daily committee schedules, and legislative contact phone numbers are available at http://www.leg.state.or.us.
To receive the Oregon AFL-CIO weekly updates, sent by by e-mail, visit http://www.oraflcio.unions-america.com.
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