South Carolina - Lawmakers reach deal on workers' comp overhaul. In a long-awaited move, legislators came to agreement on workers comp reforms this past Friday, but the full House and Senate will need to approve the bill when they return for a special session June 19. As expected, the Second Injury Fund will be phased out by 2013. Also, fraud penalties have been toughened - particularly for employers who potentially face stiff penalties and jail for premium fraud or for failure to carry workers comp coverage. It also makes it a requirement that employees and their physicians provide information to employers and insurance claims handlers; defines repetitive trauma; clarifies payment for shoulder or hip injuries; and offers a mechanism for employers to more broadly challenge back injury claims and permanent disability.
Arizona - The legislature has given preliminary approval to a labor-employer compromise bill that would increase benefit caps for workers' compensation. Benefits are currently capped at $2,400 and would rise to $3,000 and $3600 in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and then be adjusted annually by as much as 5 percent. Business interests came to agreement to avoid the possibility of a ballot initiative and labor in turn modified their demands and agreed to work to with business on medical cost issues.
New York - State Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo has unveiled a plan to reduce the time of workers' comp dispute resolution from the current 6 months to 90 days. This plan is an offshoot of the recent state reform that raised the benefit from $400 to $700 a week. Meanwhile, also in New York, Joe Paduda discusses an attempted rollback of a reform measure that would allow employers to direct workers to designated pharmacies.
Cold war workers still out in the cold - In an ongoing shameful saga, Rocky Flats nuclear workers face potential benefit denial this week as their case is considered. The nuclear workers continue to die from cancer while federal health officials and a White House Advisory board dispute the rules of a 2000 law intended to compensate energy workers in America's nuclear agencies who were exposed to damaging levels of radiation. Governor Ritter has appealed to the board to help the ailing workers and threatens to bring the matter to Congress if help is not forthcoming.
Meanwhile, a similar benefit battle is being waged by Dow Chemical workers and their survivors in Madison Illinois. This news story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers an excellent overview of the history and issues facing workers in their uphill battle to get compensation. For more background, see Out in the cold; America's cold war energy workers.
Dangerous Jobs - There's a terrific photo essay on Alaskan Fishermen in the art magazine with the unflattering name of Fecal Face, which is a good follow-on to the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch series. The job of fishing in Alaska continues to be among the riskiest work in the nation.