Friday, March 13, 2009

Proposed Mo Comp Legislation: Duck and Cover

To paraphrase an over-quoted Mark Twain saying, no business is really safe when the legislature is in session. Although no major legislative overall is on the table, Missouri has several important pending bills.1 It remains to be seen how many bills will move forward. Some of the proposals include:

* Increase death benefits for survivors of firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and corrections officers killed in the line of duty. Proposed benefits include a lump-sum that ranges from $25,000 (HB 580) to $15,000 (SB 332). The fiscal impact statement was originally calculated at $10,000 per payment and assumes benefits for the program would cap at $500,000 per year. On average about 15 people within these classes died per year. Missouri provides already preferred status to firefighters and police officers regarding proof of certain types of injuries. The bill raises concern of "mission creep" by expanding the size of other preferred classes.

* Allow the employee the right to choose his or her own physician. (HB 907). No fiscal impact statement is provided with the bill. (They are probably still adding it up!)

* Allow Medicaid a guaranteed recovery of any benefits paid to claimants on public assistance, and requires employers to give 30 days notice before settling cases and prevents judges from approving any settlements until medicaid provides releases (SB 552). This bill appears to be a state equivalent to the new Rule 111 provisions to capture Medicare payments and imposes similar delays to require agency response about conditional payments before any settlements. The bill further requires parties to allocate all medicaid payments separately in settlements, to avoid the recent findings that Medicaid routinely asserts unconstitutional liens against lump sum settlements discussed in Doran v Mo. Dept. of Social Services, 2008 WL 4151617, Med & Med GD (CCH) P 302,623 (W.D.Mo., Sep 02, 2008) (NO. 07-CV-04158-NKL).

Pending legislation limits awards of disfigurement without a finding that disfigurement is a hindrance to employment. (HB 932) (SB 323).

A house bill allows contractors not to provide benefits when subcontractors have opted out of the Act due to religious reasons. (HB 288).

The Second Injury Fund faces extinction under HB 522 according to bill opponents. The bill would cap benefits at $40,000, restrict attorneys fees at 15%, and stop benefits to claimants who are incarcerated or are illegal to work. Four out of five Fund claims receive some payment, and the bill seeks to lower the cap to protect the fund's solvency instead of raising the current premium cap of 3% surcharged on employers. Fiscal impact reports costs of approximately $1,000,000 a year for the next three years. Testifying against the proposal included several union groups and, not surprisingly, MATA.