HB 334 – Workers Lost

Prior to the 2011 Montana legislative session, the labor and management members of the LMAC agreed upon a number of changes to the work comp system – the sides negotiated and each side gave up something in order to get something.  Those changes which amounted to labor giving up something were commandeered by Republicans in the 2011 session under HB 334.  And, virtually none of those changes that amounted to labor gaining something were included in HB 334.

LMAC and the interim Economic Affairs Committee are both reviewing the impact of HB 334 on Montana’s workers’ compensation system.  Check out their schedules and plan to attend meetings, or send your comments.

Below and here are some perspectives on HB 334.

WAITING PERIOD Provides retroactive payment of the waiting period if disability exceeds 21 days. Was in consensus agreement that LMAC agreed to, and was one of the small increases in compensation for injured workers.

IMPAIRMENT RATINGS & PPD AWARDS
* Requires doctors to use the 6th Edition of the AMA Guides to Evaluation of Permanent Impairment for determining an impairment rating. Was not in consensus agreement that LMAC arrived at, LMAC agreed to retain the 5th Edition. This has been a major concern with decreased compensation for injured workers under the 6th Edition. Substantial numbers of claimants’ claims have been negatively impacted by this change.

* Awards a permanent partial disability (PPD) payment only to injured workers who suffer a whole person impairment rating greater than zero and a wage loss, or to injured workers with a Class 2 or greater impairment rating and no wage loss. Was not in consensus agreement that LMAC arrived at. This has been a major concern with NO impairment compensation for injured workers with Class 1 impairments and no wage loss. Substantial numbers of claimants’ claims have been negatively impacted by this change.

* Increases the number of weeks included in the calculation of the award from 375 to 400 weeks. Was in consensus agreement that LMAC agreed to, and was one of the small increases in compensation for injured workers.

CHOICE OF TREATING PHYSICIAN
* Allows injured worker to choose initial health care provider and allows insurer to approve workers’ choice as treating physician or designate a different treating physician to manage and coordinate medical treatment. Was not in consensus agreement that LMAC arrived at. This has been a major concern with choice of physician being overridden, decreased access to medical care, designation of treating physicians in distant towns and delays in receiving medical care for injured workers. Substantial numbers of claimants’ claims have been negatively impacted by this change.

LMAC Consensus (as in HB 87) Other provisions that LMAC agreed to, but did not make it into HB 334.

* Limited payment of attorney fees in medical only disputes

* Effective 7/1/2011 – Increase maximum weekly PPD rates to
75% of SAWW (now at 50%) Impact on higher wage earners is
significant when compensation rates are limited to 66 2/3% of
weekly wage, and then capped at half of the average weekly wage. The 66 2/3% was instituted when taxes were higher, to
approximate take home pay lost – probably closer to 75% or higher now.

* Effective 7/1/2013 – Increase maximum weekly PPD rates to
100% of SAWW

Will Anything Be Done For Injured Workers?

It remains to be seen if LMAC will agree to support it’s previous negotiated deal and the benefits for workers that were left out of HB 334.

Al Smith

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