Businesses in Florida are hoping state legislators will amend workers’ compensation law so that carriers will be able to pare back premiums that have jumped more than 10% in response to recent court decisions that benefitted workers and their attorneys.
The legislators began their annual 60-day session March 7. Senate Bill 1582 has been drafted to stabilize premiums, says State Sen. Rob Bradley (R), a sponsor.
The state Supreme Court had decided in 2016 two successful challenges sought by worker advocates and their attorneys to the existing state workers’ compensation law.
In them, the court declared unconstitutional two elements that dated to 2003. One is a statutory cap on claimant attorney fees. The other is a 104-week limitation on temporary total disability benefits. As a result, insurers sought premium increases of 14.5% and the disability benefits cap rose from two years to five (260 weeks).
The rate increases sent worry through the business community. Subcontractors said that they had already priced work based on the old workers’ compensation rates.
The rulings created “a workers’ compensation market crisis,” say officials of the Associated Industries of Florida, who further decry unspecified additional attempts to hold other portions of the workers’ compensation law unconstitutional.
In a statement, Bradley said, “While I believe comprehensive legislation to overhaul the entire workers’ compensation system and reduce rates is our ultimate goal, the current cycle of enacting laws that impact businesses only to have those changes overturned by the courts creates instability for businesses that must be avoided.”
Bradley said the goal was to stabilize premiums and promote competition among insurers in the state. “The bill also incorporates recent court decisions to avoid costly and protracted litigation,” he said.
If adopted, the measure would require insurance carriers to authorize or decline requests for authorization from health-care providers within three business days. The request is deemed authorized if the insurance carrier fails to respond.
The bill also requires a claimant to state with specificity the amount of each requested benefit at issue in a petition, and requires judges of compensation claims to dismiss petitions that do not contain such specificity. In addition, the bill amends statutes relating to temporary total disability benefits and attorneys’ fees to comply with the Supreme Court’s decisions.