New Workers' Comp Reform Committee Steps out in California

The California Committee for Workers' Compensation Reform and Accountability (CWRA) has launched a petition signature drive to qualify a workers' compensation reform package for the November 2004 election ballot.

The group cites recent polls that demonstrate stronger-than-average voter support for reforming the state's workers' compensation system. They will need that support: nearly 1 million signatures of registered voters will need to sign petitions by April 16 to get the measure on the ballot.

"The interest in this initiative effort to reform workers' comp is overwhelming," said Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee (SBAC) and a proponent of the initiative. "The last time I can recall an initiative having this kind of grassroots enthusiasm was back in the days when Prop. 13 was on the ballot. And today, like then, the call is for real, fundamental systemic reform."

The Workers' Compensation Reform and Accountability Act is a constitutional initiative that, if approved by voters in November, would provide fundamental, structural reform to the state's system. Those reforms include:

  • Proof of injury: The initiative requires the employee to prove an injury occurred at workshowing a preponderance of the evidence. It will also require that all workers' compensation laws be interpreted in "an impartial and balanced manner" so that the employee and the employer will be considered equal before the law.
  • Apportionment of permanent disability: The initiative provides that injured employees receive permanent disability benefits from their employer only for the portion of disability caused as the direct result of the injury arising out of and occurring in the course of employment. Employers would not be liable for injuries or conditions that are not a direct result of the employment.
  • Agreeing on treating physicians: The initiative requires that treating physicians, whether pre-designated or selected 30 days after the injury occurs, be mutually agreed upon by the employer and the employee.
  • Using qualified medical evaluators: The initiative requires that the selected qualified medical evaluator's specialty is relevant to the type of injury for which the evaluation is sought. Evaluators will be required to support their opinions using objective findings.
  • Medical treatment dispute resolution: Medical professionals will decide disputes regarding the denial, modification, delay or approval of medical treatment.
  • Standardized treatment guidelines: The diagnosis and treatment of industrial injuries will be governed by guidelines established by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Those guidelines are based upon the best available scientific evidence.
  • Benefits for convicted criminals: Inmates will no longer be permitted to make a claim for disability benefits for injuries that occur while they are in custody.
  • Workers' Rights: Permanent disability benefits will be increased for the most seriously injured employees.

"…Today, California employers pay the highest workers' comp costs in the nation $6.33 of every $100 of payroll compared with the national average of $2.46," pointed out Christopher M. George, CEO of CMG Mortgage, a member of the Board of Directors of SBAC and a proponent of the initiative. "For California to be competitive in attracting and retaining businesses and jobs we have to get these costs under control while ensuring that the best benefits are available for our most seriously injured employees."

For more information about the initiative, log on to the committee's Web site at http://www.reformworkerscomp.comwww.reformworkerscomp.com.

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