Last year, the California Legislature -- with the blessing of Gov. Jerry Brown -- enacted its traditional, once-a-decade overhaul of the state's multibillion-dollar-a-year system of compensating workers for job-related injuries and illnesses.
Employers, insurers, medical care providers and other players in the workers' compensation system are still sorting through what the Legislature and Brown wrought. Generally, the overhaul, Senate Bill 863, raised some cash benefits but also tightened up eligibility for, or even eliminated, other benefits. This earned rare joint support from employer groups and labor unions, which had worked on the changes privately.
A new 16-state study of workers' compensation systems, covering 60 percent of the nation's workers, says it's too early to tell what the real-world effects of SB 863 will be, specifically whether its cost-saving provisions will offset the costs of increased cash payments, as its sponsors promised.
Because the effects of the 2012 overhaul are still unknown, the study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute in Cambridge, Mass., concentrated its section on California on how it compared to other states during the years following the previous overhaul in 2004.
It found that disabled California workers were receiving permanent partial disability payments more often than those in other major states and that those payments tended to be longer in duration -- thus confirming one of employers' complaints, which the 2012 reforms addressed.
However, medical payments per claim were lower in California than in most other states, confirming that the 2004 reforms had an intended effect, although legal costs were higher, "which may be related to increasing disputes over medical treatment, utilization review denials and other issues," the study said.
PHOTO: Beth Slavin of Modesto, who injured her knee on the job, lies on a stretcher at a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento on April 19, 2005, protesting workers compensation legislation that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the year before. The Sacramento Bee/ John Decker