Workers Compensation Reform – Issues & Updates
On February 3rd and 4th I traveled to Juneau to attend the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Legislative Fly-in on behalf of the WCCA. The WCCA is a State Chamber member and the annual legislative Fly-in is our opportunity to meet one-on-one with legislators and promote the Chamber’s…and the WCCA’s…top legislative priorities.
The Chamber’s top three legislative priorities for 2016 are:
1. Support reduction of State spending to sustainable levels.
2. Support comprehensive workers’ compensation reform.
3. Oppose a natural gas reserves tax.
During our day and a half of meetings, I met personally with the following legislators: Rep. David Guttenburg, Democrat from FairbanksRep. Craig Johnson, Republican from Anchorage Rep. Benjamin Nageak, Democrat from BarrowRep. Cathy Tilton, Republican from Wasilla Rep. Liz Vazquez, Republican from AnchorageSen. Lesil McGuire, Republican from Anchorage It was clear that the legislators’ attention is focused almost exclusively on the budget. The point was driven home repeatedly that not much else will be considered until the state’s budget problems are resolved, and that’s evidenced by the debate over HCR23 that is intended to limit House committee activity to only budgetary issues. But the WCCA and the Chamber took the opportunity to point out that because the State of Alaska spends over $28 million annually on workers’ compensation benefits, comprehensive workers’ compensation reform is actually a fiscal issue that would save the state a substantial amount of money when enacted.
This was the third Legislative Fly-in I’ve attended since beginning my tenure as president of WCCA. A couple years ago many legislators weren’t even aware there was a problem with our workers’ compensation system. The WCCA has done a lot to educate our legislators on the problems with our current workers’ compensation statutes and it’s very evident that there is a high level of awareness regarding the need for comprehensive workers’ compensation reform. We saw a good start with the passage of HB141 and HB316 in the previous session, but there is much work left to be done, particularly in the areas of utilization review, objective medical treatment guidelines, reemployment benefits, litigation, and the SIME process, among others. Obviously, the legislature’s attention during the remainder of this session is going to be focused primarily on the budget, but we’re continuing our efforts to keep the need for comprehensive workers’ compensation reform near the front of our legislators’ minds…right behind the budget.
Legislation is still being introduced and attached you will find letters the WCCA sent to Senator Peter Micciche and Representative Kurt Olson regarding SB119 and HB214, the bills that would repeal the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission. There have been a total of 14 bills related to workers’ compensation introduced this session (most in the first half) and even though we don’t expect much movement this session, the WCCA is reviewing and monitoring all of them.
Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that it’s time to renew your WCCA membership for 2016. WCCA needs your support and without a large showing of Alaska employers, the WCCA can’t be effective in pushing forward on comprehensive workers’ compensation reform. Membership renewal is $100 and you can take care of it online at www.wccak.org/membership or complete the attached membership application and mail it together with your payment to: WCCAP.O. Box 241911Anchorage, AK 99524-1911
Thank you for your support! Chuck Brady President
On December 1, 2015, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development adopted, as an emergency regulation, the workers’ compensation fee schedule under AS 23.30.097. As an emergency regulation, it will expire on March 1, 2016. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development intend to make the emergency regulation permanent. There have been, however, threats of legal action from several medical specialties, including air ambulance and ambulatory surgery centers, and some general discontent about how certain aspects of the fee schedule were determined, all of which are now threatening implementation of the fee schedule on a permanent basis.
While the WCCA shares some of these concerns, it is our position that the framework established by the Medical Services Review Committee and the resulting fee schedule, while not perfect, is a positive move in the right direction towards containing Alaska’s exorbitant medical costs within the workers’ compensation system. The pecuniary interests of a small number of medical providers cannot be allowed to derail a 10-year old process and to deny to so many more the benefits of the fee schedule.
The WCCA actively stays abreast of and engaged in the deliberative process by which the fee schedule was created and adopted and we are committed to maintaining an active role in the annual revision process to ensure that Alaska employers have a seat and a voice at the table at all levels of the policy making process.
Please plan on attending the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board’s public hearing on Friday, January 15, 2016, at 9:00 A.M. and voicing your support for the fee schedule.
Department of Labor Building
3301 Eagle Street, Hearing Room 208
Anchorage AK 99503
In 2014 Alaska’s legislature passed a number of bills that started the discussion, but did not provide comprehensive reform. WCCA believes that Alaska’s legislature should take up Workers Compensation Reform in 2015, however, with the budget deficit, it will take business people and employees contacting their legislators telling them that it is important.
Click here for more information on what makes Alaska’s Workers Compensation cost so high and for the opportunity to begin acting to help enact change.
Click here to see the 2014 letter to Governor Walker urging his support for significant, comprehensive workers’ compensation reform.