Opinion: Workers’ Comp Reform for Injured Workers and Job Creators

The following post is by Wendy Novak, President, Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington.

We urge support of SB 5822 – Workers’ Comp Reform for Injured Workers and Job Creators

Deadline is March 8th 

SB 5822 is aimed at improving workers’ compensation system costs and administration and worker outcomes through modification of procedures for claims to self-insureds, clarification of recovery in third-party legal actions, clarification of occupational disease claims, and lowering age barriers for structured settlements.

The reforms included in SB 5822 are not intended to reduce workers’ compensation benefits, but to make the system more efficient. This is a positive change. It is fair and consistent with providing excellent benefits to workers and taking into account the needs of self-insured employers.

SB 5822 addresses the following:

  • Structured settlement reform: Allow responsible adults to settle their non-medical claims – 
    • A 2016 study by the Upjohn Institute confirms that there were no adverse effects or unintended consequences of allowing structured settlements in Washington, but many unnecessary limitations hurt the program’s effectiveness.
  • Third-party claims: Fix the reimbursement loophole –
    • A 2010 decision of the Washington Supreme Court created a loophole incentivizing trial lawyers to game workers’ comp money in third party cases so the system can’t get reimbursed, raising costs and putting pressure on rates
  • Self-Insured claims: Allow greater claims management responsibility – 
    • Legislative performance audits in 1998 and 2015 and the Self-Insurance Ombuds have pointed out that L&I should allow greater claims management responsibility.

Why Support SB 5822?

  • Workers still aren’t getting back to work –
    • Washington’s average days off work continue to be around 250-twice the national average and three times the Oregon average.  Workers in some industries are making more money off workers’ comp than they were at work. 
  • Despite attempts to reform, costs continue to rise –
    • Since 2011 reforms, State Fund premiums have increased over 6 percent, while premiums have decreased in most states. The National Academy of Social Insurance shows Washington still pays the highest benefit per covered worker in the nation.
  • The Department’s answer is higher penalties and more employees –
    • Rather than seek cost-reduction measures, the Department’s legislative priorities include higher safety penalties on employers and nearly $47 million for 78 new full-time employees. 

The Associated Builders & Contractors of Western Washington along with several strategic and industry partners has signed on to a joint letter in support of SB 5822. Organizations in support of SB 5822 include: Associated General Contractors, Building Industry Association of Washington, Association of Washington Business, National Federation of Independent Business, Washington Roundtable, and others. 
Contact your legislators TODAY and tell them to SUPPORT SB 5822.

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