Steve Miller ran two articles today in the Nevada Journal on the proposed legislation that would allow injured workers greater rights to choose their treating physicians. Let’s hope that Nevada’s lawmakers read them and pay particular attention to how ineffective DIR is with regard to looking out for the interests of injured workers as we try to weather the storm during this legislative session.
Meanwhile, the self-insured employers didn’t fare as well as they expected on AB 229 during the Assembly’s Committee on Commerce and Labor open hearing on March 25, 2015, with this nasty piece of legislation that had a laundry list of insults to the Nevada workers’ compensation system. Lobbyist Don Jayne for the self-insured group admitted that he hadn’t tried working with claimants’ advocates to determine what compromises were possible on the lengthy bill that covered a variety of topics. Claimants’ attorneys came well-prepared to respond to legislators questions as to why AB 229 was a bad idea. Some of the provisions in the proposed legislation included shortening the claim filing requirement from 90 to 30 days. For 25 years in Nevada, an injured worker has had 90 days to file a workers’ compensation claim. Another provision in the bill would allow insurers to suspend benefits if an injured worker who is unable to work from a work injury suddenly has a non-industrial medical condition, including pregnancy, that might prolong treatment for the work injury. A significant limitation to lifetime reopening rights was also included, and the insurers proposed that their adjusters be allowed to make discretionary decisions about allowing ongoing medication after a claim is closed, without giving injured workers appeal rights. Perhaps the most controversial provision that was discussion was requiring that rating doctors use the AMA Guides 6th edition instead of the 5th edition to rate impairment. The Committee chair concluded the session by telling Mr. Jayne that this was a dead bill until there was some attempt by the self-insureds to meet with the opposition to try to work out some compromises.
In response, the self-insureds have apparently dropped all of the proposed legislative changes in AB 229 except for requiring that rating doctors use the 6th edition of the AMA Guides to Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. This would also require that Nevada automatically adopt whatever new editions in the future that are published by the AMA Guides to Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The reason the self-insureds want the 6th edition so much is that it will significantly gut awards for injured workers. For example, an injured worker who requires a knee replacement due to a work accident would get a 33 1/3% less rating under the 6th edition than under the 5th edition. Another example would be that an injured worker requiring a single level lumbar fusion from a work injury would be rated as having a 13% whole person impairment, whereas he would be rated as having a 20 to 23% whole person impairment under the 5th edition.
We need to educate legislators in the upcoming battle over the 6th edition rating guides that PPD awards are not the windfalls or jackpots people think they are. Most of my clients with serious work injuries who have been out of work receiving only 2/3 of their average monthly wage, use their PPD awards to pay off debts incurred while out of work. Many use their awards to continue their medical care with doctors of their own choosing who might do them some good. Now is the time for injured workers to speak up and tell their stories as to why PPD awards should not be reduced.