WSI: Many in N.D. Impacted by Comp Legislation

May 13, 2005

According to Workforce Safety & Insurance, North Dakota employers, workers and medical providers will all be affected by workers’ compensation legislation enacted by the recently concluded 59th North Dakota Legislative Assembly.

The Workforce Safety & Insurance bills signed by Gov. John Hoeven will, among other things, provide additional benefits for injured workers, broaden and expand existing safety programs for employers and streamline communications with medical providers.

“I believe this is the most comprehensive workers’ compensation package to come out of a legislative session since the establishment of the Board of Directors in 1997,” said WSI Board Chair Bob Indvik. Today the WSI Board of Directors held its first meeting since the session ended and reviewed the new laws, most of which go into effect on Aug. 1, 2005.

Among the key provisions for injured workers:

* A $15 million dollar revolving education loan fund for qualified for injured workers.
* Increases “Guardian Scholarships” amounts for spouses and children of workers killed on the job.
* Provides more choices and options for injured workers who have temporary disabilities.
* Changes the “Permanent and Total Disability” definition moving from a subjective to an objective standard.
* Increases non-dependency payments from $2,000 to $12,500 for the estate administration of workers killed on the job who do not have a spouse.
* Establishes an interim legislative “Workers’ Compensation Review Panel” to listen to injured workers’ issues about the law as it applied to their cases.
* Recalculates the “Additional Benefit Payable” before the social security offset to provide more dollars to those injured workers receiving this post-retirement benefit.

Among the key provisions for employers:

* Broadens and expands existing safety-discount, safety education, safety incentives and matching safety grant programs. WSI is prepared to commit up to $35 million dollars for multi-year safety initiatives.
* Waives the $250 medical assessment for work injuries that are reported by midnight of the following business day.
* Allows WSI to set up an annual procedure for those asserting independent contractor status.
* Simplifies the calculation of premium for employers carrying optional coverage on their children.
* Establishes that each of the 5 employer representatives of the 11-member WSI Board must be either a principal owner, CEO or CFO of the employer.
* Mandates that the discount rate used in evaluating the WSI Reserve Fund may not exceed 6 percent and the reserves plus surplus must be at least 120 percent, but not exceed 140 percent of the actuarially established discounted reserve.
* Eliminated the requirement that employers provide the nine-digit zip codes of all their employees’ home addresses.

And for medical providers:

* Clarifies the ability of healthcare personnel to communicate directly with employers on injured workers’ return-to-work issues.
* Allows WSI to share social security numbers with medical facilities as unique identifiers for injured workers.

“This is a sound workers’ compensation package for the state of North Dakota and its workforce,” said Sandy Blunt, chief executive officer of WSI. “And I want to thank the legislature and all of our stakeholders for their hard work, their willingness to compromise, and their help throughout the legislative session.”

WSI is a provider of workers’ comp insurance in the State of North Dakota. WSI was established in 1919 with the purpose of providing wage and medical benefits to workers injured or killed during the course of their employment. WSI is not a general fund agency and does not operate on a single tax dollar.

This year, for the second time in a row, North Dakota’s average premium rate was ranked the lowest in the nation. Conversely, over the last five years, the state’s average benefits paid to injured workers has been ranked in the top half nationally.

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