New Colorado Bill Could Expand Workers’ Compensation Benefits

workers-compDespite lobbying for House Bill 1383, which would improve workers compensation benefits, the efforts weren’t enough to get Republicans aboard. If passed, the legislature would expand the number of doctors that employers would have to let workers choose from for work-related injuries from two to four. The bill received 7-4 approval from the House Business, Labor, Economic and Workforce Development Committee and is now moving to the House floor.

Business groups and labor interests have negotiated the House Bill 1383 over the past year. So far, the bill has the backing of groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado AFL-CIO, and the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. The state’s largest insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, took a neutral stance on the bill after The National Council on Compensation Insurance analyzed it and found that it’d have a “negligible” effect on workers’ comp insurance premiums.

Considering the fact that workers’ compensation covers over 94% of U.S. employees, which is more than 140 million American workers, and the fact that the total cost of workers’ compensation is over $95 billion annually, any changes to the insurance protocols would be scrupulously looked at.

That being said, it’s only natural that this bill is a compromise, as noted by sponsoring Rep. Angela Williams. In fact, two out of three of union leaders’ concerns didn’t even make it into the bill, which were a removal of a provision allowing injury settlement to be cut by 50% should an employee violate safety rules and a reduction of the approximate 90% of injury settlements resulting in employee departures from their respective companies.

The opposition, also has a point though. Of the 100,434 employees in 2012 who filed for workers’ comp, only 318, which is just 0.3%, actually requested switching doctors. This begs the question of what problem would this bill resolve? Opposition further claims that an expansion of choices would have long term repercussions in regards to the cost of workers’ comp, since it’d allow non-specialized medical professionals into the pool, slowing down the time it’d take for well-treated workers to return to their job.

However, according to AFL-CIO legislative director Phil Hayes, the expansion is key for both the mental and psychological healing.

“The business community generally believes that the workers’ compensation system in Colorado is a good one that restores injured workers at a reasonable cost to employers,” said Colorado Competitive Council lobbyist Patrick Boyle. “The bill will grant injured workers a broader choice of treating physicians while maintaining low costs.”