Michigan reform legislation seeks to incorporate advancements
H.B. 5002 was prompted by the "significant amount of confusion in determining eligibility for both the employer and employee," according to Republican state Rep. Brad Jacobsen. He and other supporters say the bill would codify current case law.
Specifically, the bill would do the following:
- Clarify a personal injury as one sustained while working or as a result of the job.
- Specify that injuries without a connection to work are not eligible.
- Make a distinction between total and partial disability, so an employee's compensation award could be reduced if the injured worker was able to handle a lighter, less-paying job.
- Clear up definitions of "disability," "wage earning capacity," and "wage loss."
- Extend from 10 to 90 days the time period before an employee could select a treating physician.
Jacobsen said the bill would "stabilize, clarify and modernize the current law to ensure that workers' compensation is determined fairly in Michigan." Several organizations are supporting the measure.
The state Chamber of Commerce said the law would "put an end to the flip flopping" resulting from changes made to the law "depending upon what judge hears a case, creating inconsistency, confusion and high insurance premiums for job providers."
Wendy Block, the chamber's director of Health Policy and Human Resources, said the measure is in the best interest of workers and employers "because it provides increased clarity and certainty to common disputes job providers are often forced to spend thousands of dollars litigating."
However, some Democratic members of the state's legislature oppose the bill saying it would curtail benefits and reduce a worker's right to receive them. One lawmaker says the effect of the bill would be to shift costs to the state because workers would apply for general assistance.
Football support. One provision in the bill has caught the attention of the state's National Football League team. In a letter to the House Commerce Committee, Detroit Lions' staff counsel Jonathan B. Dykema says the legislation will provide much-needed stability in the system.
At issue is the growing practice of former athletes seeking workers' comp benefits for injuries sustained in states other than where they are based.
"Forum shopping in the state of California has become rampant amongst former professional athletes in recent days," the letter says. "The problem for teams like us is that insurance carriers are having great difficulty sorting out these claims, regardless of whether or not there is a reasonable basis for them to be filed in California in the first place."
The letter goes on to say that the organization cannot always conclusively show that it should not be responsible for paying such a claim, and that there is not always accurate and timely information available as to claims previously settled in Michigan.
"Needless to say, these California claims are putting a huge strain on our organization in terms of the time required to gather the information and documentation necessary to fight these sometimes baseless claims," it continues. "The end result is that our collective insurance carriers currently have a backlog of thousands of claims to resolve in California just related to the NFL, some dating back several decades."
Section 360 of the legislation seeks to change that scenario. If adopted, Michigan would join a growing number of states that have addressed the issue of athletes seeking benefits under California's workers' comp system.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
October 24, 2011
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