The California workers' compensation system has been around for over 100 years, providing medical and disability benefits to people who experience work-related injuries and illnesses. California workers should be aware of some recent changes to the system that could affect their rights and their access to benefits.
Streamlined Process Received Bipartisan Support
In response to growing concerns about high costs, slow processing times and lengthy litigation, California Governor Jerry Brown recently approved an overhaul of the state workers' compensation system designed to address these issues. The reforms have received unusually widespread support from across the political spectrum, and have been praised as benefitting both businesses and employees. However, some advocates on both sides of the issue have expressed reservations about what the long-term consequences of the reform may be.
Many of the changes are aimed improving the efficiency of the California workers' compensation system, in terms of both money and time. In its prior state, the process of obtaining workers' compensation benefits often moved very slowly in California, delaying the availability of medical care for those suffering from on-the-job injuries or illnesses. The reforms are expected to speed the process significantly and provide injured workers with faster access to the medical care they need.
Among the changes included in the reforms are provisions affecting how benefits are calculated and how disputes are resolved. The legislation also increases permanent disability benefits for workers who are permanently disabled by a work-related injury or illness.
Efficiency: A Double-Edged Sword?
In an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency, one provisions of the bill eliminates coverage for certain secondary conditions that are frequently associated with lengthy periods of litigation. Examples of such "add-ons" that will no longer be covered include sleep disturbances, stress disorders and sexual dysfunction resulting from an underlying work injury.
Another provision intended to reduce extensive court battles establishes a new process for resolving disputes over medical treatment. Prior to the reform, injured California workers with medical disputes could request an expedited hearing with a workers' compensation judge or have an impartial physician review the dispute. Under the new system, medical disputes will be resolved by a medical review board whose members are appointed by the governor. The decisions of the review board will not be subject to appeal, making it particularly important to seek legal help when dealing with workers' compensation issues in California. Contact an experienced workers' compensation lawyer for more information.