California political observer and columnist Dan Walters, in an editorial published by CalMatters Monday, said that pressure for workers’ compensation reforms is building in Sacramento.
Walters’ prediction appears to rest largely on the trend of lawmakers undertaking reform efforts roughly every 10 years. The most recent reform effort was SB 863 in 2012.
While the SB 863 reforms reduced average work comp costs — the average charged rate fell from $3.24 per $100 of payroll in 2014 to $1.81 for 2021 — Walters says that it “grates on” physicians and providers, and on labor unions and claimants’ attorneys.
Pressure has been building for reform, but Walters said Gov. Gavin Newsom turned down the damper on efforts to overhaul the system during the pandemic.
Still, he says lawmakers have been chipping away at aspects of the SB 863 reforms by enacting presumptions that flip the burden of proof and require employers to prove a claimed condition did not arise out of employment.
For example, Walters said SB 542 from 2019 created the presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder is compensable for first responders. SB 284, a bill that would expand the PTSD presumption to state firefighters and security officers, as well as dispatchers and emergency response communications employees, is awaiting action by the governor, who has until the end of September to enact or veto bills passed this year.
“The proliferation of such bills is increasing the pressure for a new systemic overhaul, but the makeup of the dominant coalition and what changes it will seek are still very unsettled,” Walters said.
For what it’s worth, Walters in April 2021 made a similar prediction that lawyers and medical providers were leading a charge for reforms based on two bills that lost steam shortly after his column was published.
AB 1465, which would have required the Division of Workers’ Compensation to create the California Medical Provider Network, was never called for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement and died in June 2021.
AB 404, which would have required the DWC to update the Medical-Legal Fee Schedule and regularly increase cost-of-living adjustments, was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee in July 2021.