House Representative Jason Shaw and Chad Nimmer are leading the charge in a bill introduced, as it states in the summary,
” A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Chapter 9 of Title 34 of the O.C.G.A., relating to workers’ compensation, so as to change certain provisions relating to workers’ compensation insurance, awards, benefits, and administration; to provide that administrative law judges are subject to the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct; to change provisions related to an employer’s duties to provide the State Board of Workers’ Compensation with certain information; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.”
The key highlights from the bill are incredibly important:
- Increase the maximum average weekly wage from $550 to $575 per week (but maintain minimum TTD exposure at $50 per week, unless the weekly wage is below $50)
- Increase the temporary partial disability maximum from $367 to $383 per week
- Increase total compensation payable under O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265 for compensation in a death claim from $220,000 to $230,000
- Make the Board’s Administrative Law Judges subject to the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct
- Require employers seeking to be designated as self-insured to provide the Board “sufficient information for the Board to make an adequate assessment of the employer’s workers’ compensation exposure and liabilities”
- Make additional revisions to the Self-Insurer’s Guaranty Trust Fund
There are two other bills, SB 29 and its companion HB 216, which seek to create a rebuttable presumption that “diseases of life” suffered by firefighters are work-related. Yes, you read that correctly. At the moment, the occupational disease provisions that cover such diseases as well as high blood pressure, heart attacks, respiratory diseases and cancer which manifest after exposure to dangerous carcinogens have always been a battle against the insurance company and are never guaranteed. Even if you have been a firefighter for 20 years and develop a dangerous cancer from being exposed to at work. The bill has not been passed and both have failed last year possibly because of it being specific to only firefighters and not to all workers. We hope they revisit this bill and not only include firefighters but it protect ALL workers who are exposed to dangerous carcinogens every day.
CORPORATE INTEREST WILL TAKE US BACK TO 1910
Now while all the bills above a good step in the right direction in providing an efficient program, there is a massive lobbying group trying to dismantle the system as we know it. Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC), a national lobbying group backed by some of the most powerful companies in American business, are at the Georgia Capital lobbying to your Congressman to push for an alternative option. The ARAWC argue that companies should have the options to opt out completely of workers compensation or opt out and provide a comprehensive insurance coverage.
How does this make sense?
The shift for employers to opt out leaves families vulnerable when they are injured on the job. Georgia has low employer costs to their workers compensation (October 2014 Insurance Journal) and opting out could result to a massive reduction of benefits. Imagine your company opted out of workers compensation insurance, under the new bill you could be losing out on the Total Temporary Disability which is currently set at $550. In addition, it could give companies selection over your medical providers and refuse treatment which they deemed unnecessary. They could easily terminate your employment or benefits if they believe you have fully recovered. That of course would be up to the discretion of the doctors that your employer choose for you. This new law would also restrict you from being able to obtain a disability rating or any Permanent Partial Disability which, pays benefits to those who suffered permanent damage that impairs full function. It is important to note that PPD benefits begin only once TTD or TPD has ended. The formula takes into account the body part or function that is impaired and the rating issued by the doctor.
By eliminating some of the benefits or creating an environment of potential anxiousness and anguish, you have the possibility of people being dependent on government assistance programs that will add stress to state budget but more importantly to the families. Considering Georgia is an “At-will” state, meaning you can be fired for whatever reason this will only give more ammunition to the employers to fire anyone with a work injury. At least now, if you have a workers compensation case and with an experienced attorney, you can at least make a fight in front of an Administrative Law Judge.