Kentucky is officially moving forward on making the biggest changes to the workers’ compensation system in decades.
The legislation – backed by business groups but opposed by organized labor groups – was passed by both the State Senate and House of Representatives in March and was signed by Gov. Matt Bevin on March 30.
It has been more than 20 years since the workers compensation system underwent significant change.
“House Bill 2 is designed to help contain underlying costs and improve the state’s workers compensation system,” said Jeffrey Junkas, assistant vice president, state government relations for PCI. “HB 2 makes changes impacting medical expenses and benefits. It also takes steps to address the opioid crisis with an evidence-based pharmaceutical formulary and medical treatment guidelines to ensure timely delivery of appropriate medical care to injured workers.”
Additionally, the bill increases the maximum compensation rates for employee temporary total disability, permanent total disability, and permanent partial disability benefits, improves access to vocational rehabilitation services, and makes improvements in the dispute resolution system.
The proposed 15-year benefit cap from the date of injury would apply to certain workers filing claims for permanent, partial disability because of on-the-job injuries. Many of those workers eventually return to the labor force. Currently, they are entitled to medical benefits for the duration of the disability.
The bill would allow those injured workers to make recertification filings that, if approved, would let them continue receiving medical benefits.
According to the Associated Press, the measure had a powerful advocate the Senate debate on March 24 – Senate President Robert Stivers. The Manchester Republican said the bill would promote a “very fair process.”
“It does things for … the injured worker and it gives certainty to the industry for what their costs and liabilities would be,” he said.
Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones denounced the bill as “anti-worker.”
The Pikeville Democrat said the recertification process would put the burden on injured workers to show they should continue receiving medical benefits.
The bill’s opponents say those injuries often can result in nagging medical problems lasting a lifetime. They also say there’s no justification for the changes because workers’ compensation insurance premiums paid by Kentucky employers have been dropping.
“I can’t see the need for such a sweeping overhaul of the workers’ compensation law,” said Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville, the Associated Press reported.
He said the bill would limit costs for businesses at the expense of workers.
Supporters have said the changes would not apply to people now receiving workers’ comp benefits. The measure would affect future cases stemming from workplace injuries.