Workers’ comp
reforms surface

Employers would have a say
in the treatment of injured workers
under a Lingle-backed bill

Employers would have more say in the treatment and rehabilitation of injured workers under broad workers' compensation reforms being proposed by the Lingle administration.

Legislature 2004
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Among the key reforms is one that would essentially allow companies to choose the physician for a worker injured on the job by having employers contract with doctor networks similar to those of health care organizations, said state Labor Director Nelson Befitel.

The networks would be comparable to those of providers such as Kaiser Permanente and the Hawaii Medical Service Association, though there would be some leeway to allow an injured worker to see a longtime family physician, too, Befitel said.

"What you bring to the mix is you bring that relationship with the employer and the doctor," Befitel said. "Right now you don't have that relationship. The doctors may not have the same objective of returning the worker back to work as efficiently as possible."

Similar programs adopted in other states have brought down workers' compensation costs for employers by as much as 14 percent, he said.

The provision for employer-mandated doctors is one of several changes contained in the administration's omnibus workers' compensation reform bill scheduled to be heard by the House Labor Committee today.

Other proposed changes include:

>> Allowing the state insurance commissioner's office to investigate workers' compensation fraud.
>> Eliminating stress claims resulting from personnel action taken in good faith.
>> Creating guidelines for arbitration and mediation of workers' compensation cases.
>> Defining alternative, palliative treatment methods, such as chiropractic care and massage therapy, that can be covered by workers' compensation.
>> Defining acceptable vocational rehabilitation plans to control costs and allow greater employee input.
>> Removing the minimum requirement for injured employees receiving temporary partial disability benefits.

Majority Democrats in the House have offered similar legislation but have broken up the proposals into separate bills.

"The reason why we wanted to keep it as one bill," Befitel said, "is there really aren't any home runs in this bill. There's just singles and doubles, and you have to put them together in order to see any reduction in workers' compensation."

He said he was optimistic that the administration could reach consensus with lawmakers on several measures aimed at bringing down workers' compensation premiums for employers.

House Labor Chairman Marcus Oshiro called the proposal a "mixed bag," noting that he supports some proposals but objects to others that amount to "takeaways from workers."

"On balance it looks more bad than good," said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho). "I'm going to try and sift through it all and separate."

Research compiled by the Labor Department during the past year shows that Hawaii employers pay $3.48 in workers' compensation premiums for every $100 paid in wages -- the third-highest rate in the country behind California ($5.23) and Florida ($4.50).


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