7 Possible Workers’ Compensation Law Changes In 2017

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There have been multiple discussions on the need for the evolution of workers’ compensation insurance to address the needs of today’s workforce. In the midst of constitutional challenges and the recent controversial elections, there’s a lot brewing in the workers’ compensation arena. Here’s a compilation of the biggest changes to watch out for in 2017.

1. Rates and Premiums

The first elements to get affected due to the changes in the workers’ compensation cycle are the rates and premiums. Rates and premiums are primarily driven by competition, rather than changes in exposure. While claims have gone up in the last 20 years, the premiums have fluctuated, registering ups and downs in the same period.

Higher rates, especially in states like California, New York, Illinois, and Florida posed a problem. On the other hand, declining rates against increasing claims have caused the bigwigs in the insurance market to issue a negative outlook on workers’ compensation. One of the primary changes expected is a break in the over-competitive market cycle. This is both bound to, and expected to, happen as the new entrants in the market start seeing long-tail losses in business. The long-tail claims impacts both, the carriers and the employers in terms of cost insurance today and in future.

2. Improbability of Federal Intervention

In Obama’s regime, the Department of Labor (DOL) advocated reforms in the state workers’ compensation system. The DOL were ready to prescribe minimum benefit standard to the states. However, with the Trump government opposing several federal labor regulations, the possibility of federal intervention in state workers’ compensation looks unlikely now.

3. Mental Health

There is greater awareness now than ever about mental illnesses. Employers take into account that mental health affects employees’ focus and productivity. Mental health disorders have emerged among the top reasons for short-term absence of employees.

The challenge that lies herein is that numerous states severely limit or totally prohibit workers’ compensation benefits for mental injuries and illnesses. There is a dire need to revisit and restructure the laws dealing with mental health. Employers are trying to address mental health and workers’ compensation by sponsoring and promoting various behavioral health programs and employee assistance programs (EAP).

A noted worker’s compensation lawyer from Chicago states, “There has been a need to change the worker’s compensation laws regarding mental health since long, and this year will witness significant changes in the mental injuries department.”

4. Enhanced Transparency for Workers

The lack of clarity of information has been a major impediment in workers’ compensation insurance implementation. The terminologies and processes are often ambiguous, and leave the worker disillusioned and confused. Many feel that workers’ compensation has lost its primary purpose of providing care to the injured worker.

Owing to this, there will be greater focus on transparency in workers’ compensation information, so that correct and clear information is accessible to the injured worker, and he can understand the processes clearly to make informed decisions.

5. Occupational Disease Reforms

There is a gap in the coverage of occupational diseases in workers’ compensation norms. Exposure to certain substances at the workplace can lead to cancer and other deadly diseases. The problem arises when these diseases manifest themselves after several years.

The statute of limitations for reporting these diseases is lesser than their manifestation period. This is one of the primary reasons we see most of such cases take the court route. With increased advancement and precision in medical science, statutes will need to be reformed to provide better coverage for workers who are most at risk to suffer from occupational diseases.

This remains a controversial subject, as on the other end come the presumption laws. Currently, 34 states adhere to presumption laws that cover varieties of cancer, heart and lung diseases, and some blood-borne diseases. The issue that arises here is that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that exposure to work circumstances actually increase the risk for such diseases.

6. Determining What Constitutes Impairment in Workforce

The November elections have been a game-changer in more ways than one. Several states, eight to be precise, allow the recreational use of marijuana. This automatically increases the extent of impairment among employees. Pre-employment testing was banned a long time back as it restricted the number of eligible employees who can enter the workforce. With the new OSHA regulations coming into effect from 2016, post-injury drug testing has also been significantly limited. This only increases employers’ dilemma. Besides, drug testing for marijuana concentrates only on the presence of the drug in the system, but indicates nothing of impairment. There is a high possibility that 2017 will witness an established standard for detecting marijuana-caused impairment.

7. Healthcare Reforms

Most Americans are not happy with the way the Affordable Care Act has shaped up. Access to health insurance does not automatically guarantee good health. With healthcare becoming increasingly complex and unaffordable, the system remains tricky and does not offer adequate solutions. There is a strong sense of optimism that this year will see a shift from fee-for service to value-based and outcome-focused care, and overall wellness will assume just as much importance as chronic diseases.

To Conclude

Some of the critical workers’ compensation reforms are expected to take place this year, which will empower workers and, at the same time, resolve issues faced by employers. These are reforms that will promote efficiency, transparency, and smoother processes that will lead to measurable and positive impact.

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