North Carolina legislators have taken final action on a limited package of workers’ compensation reforms (H. 99), assigning the more contentious and costly issues to an interim legislative study committee, according to the American Insurance Association.
“Political realities required legislators to pare down the original reform package advocated by our business and insurer coalition,” Raymond G. Farmer, AIA assistant vice president, Southeast Region said. “We are pleased, however, that action was taken on some of the most pressing reforms, and that we still have an opportunity, through the study committee, to revisit the remaining issues in the 2006 session.”
One of those unresolved issues is the appropriate length and level of benefit payments, and whether to impose a lifetime cap on benefits. The study committee will also further examine the earlier bill’s provision allowing employers to halt payments if the worker refused to accept a position considered “suitable employment.” AIA believes both issues are key to controlling North Carolina’s rising average indemnity payments, which continue to outpace those of other states.
H. 99, as passed, includes the following reforms:
• Provides for greater accountability by employees who choose to work under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol by creating a “rebuttable presumption of impairment” if the employee is involved in a workplace injury while under the influence;
• Expedites the resolution and payment of claims for injured workers while allowing insurers a reasonable and appropriate period of time to investigate more complex claims;
• Partially addresses the lack of employer access to medical records that was caused by the adverse Salaam v. N.C. Department of Transportation decision in 1996, which forced many employers to resort to depositions to obtain medical information; and
• Empowers the Industrial Commission to deal with fraud and make sure the injured party cannot benefit from the unlawful conduct.
H. 99 now goes to Gov. Mike Easley (D), who is expected to sign the bill.
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