Tag Archives: Advisory Council

Citizens Pushing Back Against Attack on Work Comp System

Citizens are waking up to the potential legislative attack on the Work Comp System: Workers’ Compensation Bill an Attack on Our Rights.  This editorial is from the Wausau Daily Herald–right in the backyard of one of the legislators (Spiros) who has proposed this direct legislative attack.  We previously discussed the proposed legislation in a prior post: Legislative Alert: Worker’s Compensation Destruction Bill?

In Wisconsin, the stabilizing force–the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC)–is set to produce its agreed-upon bill in the upcoming weeks.  The Council is a group of labor and management that effectively “collective bargain” (yes, that’s not a bad phrase !) for biennial changes and common sense improvements to the system.The Council bill was unanimously agreed to by members of labor and management—which includes the WI Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC).

In direct contrast, the opposing bill (also known as the work comp destruction bill) was not considered by the Council.  It is a direct legislative attack on the work comp system.  The non-WCAC bill would tear down the whole system by exponentially increasing litigation, hindering access to medical care and recovery, and potentially creating a slippery slope to unlimited jury awards.

As opposed to the work comp destruction bill, the WCAC bill will do what it always does—improve on the Worker’s Compensation Act.  Citizens are becoming aware.

 

The Bill is Dead: Worker’s Compensation Agreed-Upon Bill Fails

Unfortunate news in the world of Wisconsin worker’s compensation: the agreed-upon bill is dead.  A post-mortem can be found at WisconsinWatch.org (“Titans clash, worker’s comp changed die“).  It is a near certainty that no changes to the worker’s compensation law will happen this year.

We previously discussed — in this blog–the historical efforts and incredible value that the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council provides to the comp system in our state.  For four decades, the Council–made up of equal members from labor and management representatives–essentially create a collectively bargained bill that is presented to the legislature regarding potential changes to the worker’s compensation act.  This Council process involves hearings held across the state, and the Council requests and includes input from other affected groups (like medical providers).  Every two years, the Council process results in an “Agreed-Upon” bill that the legislature historically approves without signficant debate.

The sucess of the Council is known throughout our state’s comp system–often recognized as a national model (and even a source of jealousy from practitioners in other states).  The agreed-upon bill process stabilizes the worker’s compensation system, producing a beneficial result for all players in the system.  We hear, time and time again, the value of stability and known costs from employers, insurance companies, and medical providers.

Unfortunately, in 2014, antagonism for the Council process arose from an unlikely source and the agreed-upon bill failed (The bill never made it out of committee and to the legislature for a vote).  While the representatives for injured workers, employers, and insurance companies agreed to the comp law changes, the opponents of the bill largely came from the medical community and medical providers.  The full text of the agreed-upon bill can be found here.  The bill contained a number of benign or historically “normal” changes, like increases in the permananent partial disability (PPD) rate for injured workers and some other procedural fixes.  The bill, however, contained some additional, significant changes to the law.

One provision involved the continuation of an injured worker’s health insurance during a healing period. Currently, there is no obligation for an employer to continue a worker’s health insurance after being off work following a work injury.  The provision would benefit workers (and their families) by keeping health insurance coverage after suffering an injury through no fault of their own.  Additionally, it likely would benefit employers and insurance carriers by allowing a worker to get the necessary medical treatment and back to work quickly, even in disputed claims.  Despite the provision’s benefits, in the current political climate, any suggestion of “mandated” insurance receives a cool reception from certain politicians.  This provision, however, did not kill the bill by itself.

Arguably the biggest change involved a future, potential medical fee schedule in hopes of lowering the cost of medical expense reimbursement.  The drumbeat for change has grown over the years as insurance carriers have noted the rising costs of medical bills in the comp system.  As a colleague noted, about 20 years ago, 2/3 of the benefit payments in a worker’s compensation case went to the employee, with 1/3 to health care providers.  Now, the opposite holds true–with almost 2/3 of every worker’s comp “dollar” going to reimburse medical providers.  The Council process was tasked with addressing the rising costs of medical bills in the system.

Medical provider organizations were present throughout the advisory council process. The organizations were asked to present proposals regarding reining in medical expenses.  The agreed-upon bill resulted in a proposed future medical fee schedule that would be developed by the Worker’s Compensation Department.  The Department would address the details, but in general, the fee schedule would be tied to average group health insurance reimbursement rates plus 10%.  

We will leave the discussion for another day about the nature of the fee schedule and whether it was generous, draconian, or somewhere in between.  Certainly the medical provider community overall rejected the proposal.  Lobbying efforts ensued.  The agreed-upon bill–for the first time in historical memory–was never even presented for a vote.

The future remains uncertain.  Many needed changes for injured workers are collateral damage from the failure to pass the bill.  Rising medical costs will remain an ever-present danger to the viability of the worker’s compensation system.  Presumably, the Advisory Council will reconvene and start the stabilizing process anew–with hopes for better success ahead.

 

 

 

Message to Wisconsin Legislators: Hands Off the Advisory Council

For the last 40 years, the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council advises the Worker’s Compensation Department and the Legislature on policy matters concerning the development and administration of the worker’s compensation law.  Overall, the Council has been an unequivocal success.  Unlike the volatility found in other states, the Wisconsin Council maintains the overall stability of the worker’s compensation system without regard to partisan changes in the legislative or executive branches of government.  The Council provides a vehicle for labor and management representatives to play a direct role in recommending changes in the worker’s compensation law to the legislature.  This year Republican legislators have already muddled up the Unemployment Compensation Advisory Council, making recommendations that have rolled back unemployment compensation standards which have been in place for decades. 

Recent news indicated that Republican legislators are questioning the use of the Council in the worker’s compensation system.  These Republican politicans, including Dan Knodl, the Chair of the Legislature’s Labor Committee, have indicated they plan to send recommendations to the Council on possible cost saving changes.  Those “cost savings” were part of the budget process in which the legislature made changes to the Unemployment Compensation program, reducing benefits to employees without the support of the Labor and Management Advisory Council. 

 

The Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, composed of five management, five labor, and three non-voting insurance members appointment by the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development and chaired by a Department employee, meets regularly at different sites around Wisconsin.  The public is welcome at these meetings to offer their concerns.  The Council obtains input from various worker’s compensation constituents including interested members of the legal, medical, labor, management, insurance, and employer communities.  Hearings on proposed changes are held followed by Advisory Council deliberation.  With input from all of these sources, the Council attempts to produce a well-balanced bill.    

As a general rule, business and insurance interests thrive on stability and known costs.  The Council’s work provides this certainty for the players in the worker’s compensation system.  In the interests of appearing “business friendly”, a Republican end run outside of the Council may actually produce the exact opposite effect—uncertain and fluctuating premiums, costs, and legal issues.The Council has always produced an “agreed upon bill” which results in annual changes in benefit rates and substantive law.  The bill proceeds to the Labor Committees and the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate where, after passage, the Governor signs the bill into law.  This process has worked and created stability in Wisconsin for many decades, a system that other states can only envy.  The successful Advisory Council process should not be altered by outside influence from the legislature.