The Pennsylvania Legislature is considering a bill that would change Workers’ Compensation law and benefits. The bill, H.B. 1840, would allow an insurer to request a review of a worker’s status after they have received permanent disability benefits for two years.
The bill would authorize an insurance carrier to require an employee to submit to a medical examination, for an Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE). It would authorize use of the latest version of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (sixth edition, April 2009) to determine the degree of impairment. The impairment ratings could then be used to make changes to the employee’s Workers’ Compensation benefits.
The bill would also set new guidelines for impairment. Permanent disability would be impairment greater than 35 percent. Temporary disability would be impairment equal to or less than 35 percent. Under the bill, the insurer would be authorized to conduct another IRE, after the worker has received benefits for 500 weeks.
Changes in death benefits are also proposed in the bill. The wages calculated for the deceased worker, payable to certain beneficiaries, could not be less than 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. Reasonable expenses for burial benefits would be increased from $3,000 to $7,000, paid by the employer or insurance carrier, directly to the undertaker.
According to the Pennsylvania Compensation Rating Bureau (PCRB), a private entity that collects information from insurance companies statewide and also influences Workers’ Compensation rates, benefits costs rose by just over six percent.
This occurred after a 2017 court case that overturned use of IRE’s to adjust benefits (Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School District), June 20, 2017). That case found that the state had improperly delegated power to determine state administered Workers’ Compensation benefits to a private group (the AMA). The bill would provide the missing delegation of power by amending the law.
The PCRB notes the six percent increase in benefits costs was the highest annual hike in at least 20 years, and translates into double-digit increases in insurance premiums paid by employers. The PCRB also reported that Pennsylvania has been experiencing a long-term downward trend in annual disability claims. But, an increase in the severity of the injuries was reported during that same period.
If passed, the bill would direct the PCRB to calculate the savings achieved through implementing the changes. That amount of savings would then be used to reduce insurances rates equal to the amount saved.
Workplace injuries can be devastating on an emotional and financial level, as well as physical. In Pennsylvania, amendments to the law are now being considered that could significantly change the Workers’ Compensation program. If you have been injured at work, it is important that you understand your rights, and get the benefits you are due.
Our firm has represented injured workers for many years. Contact a Pittsburgh Workers’ Compensation lawyer at AlpernSchubert P.C. to discuss your case. For a free, confidential consultation call 412-765-1888 or 800-243-6095 or fill out our online contact form. Our Pittsburgh office represents clients throughout Western Pennsylvania, including Allegheny County, Lawrence County, and Washington County.