The Florida Senate on Monday is expected to have a robust debate on workers’ compensation reform. Senators have two options in front of them to consider. One is a constitutionally dubious approach being pushed by the insurance companies that would increase the burden on injured workers seeking to hold insurance companies accountable for wrongly denying benefits. The other is the work product of Sen. Rob Bradley that supporters for injured workers say isn’t perfect but does pass the constitutionality test regarding access to courts.
In anticipation of the Senate debate, Florida Workers’ Advocates and the AFL-CIO turned the attention of its public awareness efforts toward comparing the two plans being considered.
Advocates for injured workers believe the Senate bill is the better approach. They argue that with a constitutionally valid cap on attorneys’ fees, injured workers can pursue appropriate legal action when insurance providers wrongfully deny their benefits. The Senate bill also injects competition into the ratemaking process that would allow employers to shop for affordable coverage.
“The Senate version (SB 1582) strikes an appropriate balance by keeping costs down for businesses. It does this by creating a competitive ratemaking system that would allow employers to shop for affordable coverage, requiring insurance companies to refund money to policyholders if defense costs exceed a certain percentage, and capping claimants’ attorney fees at a constitutionally-valid amount, which are only paid when benefits are wrongfully denied,” said Kim Syfrett, secretary for Florida Workers’ Advocates in an opinion article published over the weekend. “Unlike the insurance industry’s bill in the House, the Senate bill rightfully provides the injured worker with greater access to the courts. It streamlines the authorization of medical care, which speeds up treatment and avoids the need for unnecessary litigation. Finally, the Senate bill removes incentives for insurance companies to deny advancing necessary medical care for a worker.”
Syfrett warned that the House version of this bill became law, Florida would continue a cycle where a law is passed, rates go down only to spike once the courts rule it unconstitutional. “This happened with the workers’ comp laws passed by the Legislature in 2003 and 2009, and would continue the same rollercoaster ride of rates for businesses that stifles job growth and creates market uncertainty,” Syfrett pointed out.
The groups amplified those points in radio interviews and during a conference call with members of the media.
“When insurance providers wrongfully deny workers these necessary benefits, the workers need to have a way to fight for their rights,” said Mark Touby, president of Florida’s Workers’ Advocates. “The Senate’s workers’ comp bill recognizes this necessity. It allows for greater access to the courts for the injured worker, by capping claimants’ attorney fees at a constitutional level.”
Rich Templin, legislative and political director of AFL-CIO, legislative and political director of AFL-CIO, joined Touby for the call with Florida media, to underscore why it is important to remember injured workers in the debate.
“The key to effective workers’ compensation reform is balancing the benefits for workers and the needs of the employers who are paying the premiums,” said Templin. “The foundation of workers’ compensation is built on the medical care that injured workers receive. So, if treatment is efficiently delivered, the worker can return to the job more quickly.”