In the 2011 session, the California legislature focused much of its attention on employment laws. The legislature passed five bills aimed at addressing the rising costs and complexity of the state's workers' compensation system, all set to go into effect on January 1, 2012. These changes could have a significant impact on the ability of injured employees to get the treatment they need to return to work successfully.
Changes to Fees
Many of the bills that the legislature passed focused on cutting costs to employers and insurers. AB 378 places a limit on the amount of money that a workers' compensation insurer has to pay for compounded drugs, medications that pharmacists mix to the prescribing physician's exact specifications - often without fillers or inactive ingredients that are normally present in regular prescription drugs. Proponents of the bill claim that doctors merely take over-the-counter drugs and repackage them in an effort to charge more when they prescribe compounded drugs.
The legislature passed AB 1168 to prevent what lawmakers saw as "unreasonable" fees for counseling for injured employees. Vocational rehabilitation counselors often assist injured employees in assessing their levels of disability. Insurers must pay for the counseling, and many insurers found the cost to be "exorbitant." The bill requires public hearings to determine a schedule of reasonable fees for such counseling.
The final cost-saving measure that the legislature passed was AB 397, which requires that contractors who were exempt from the workers' compensation insurance requirement at the time they received their licenses to reaffirm that they are still exempt when renewing the licenses. The legislature believed that this bill would more effectively ensure that all employers are maintaining insurance and no one gets an unfair advantage by not carrying insurance despite the law requiring them to do so.
Streamlining the Workers' Compensation Process
The legislature also attempted to make the workers compensation system less onerous and bureaucratic by eliminating the court administrator position. AB 335 also requires the administrative director of the Department of Industrial Relations to set "reasonable rules and regulations" and make a website that everyone can access with information written in plain language.
Implications for Injured Workers
The new, employer-friendly laws could have a detrimental effect on the ones the workers' compensation system is supposed to protect: injured workers. Employees will now have a more difficult time getting the medication they need if that medicine is a compounded drug. Additionally, permanently disabled workers may have less access to counseling they need to help them deal with their disability if the state sets the reimbursement rates too low.
Injured workers often have to fight to get the treatment to which they are entitled by law. If you have been injured on the job, consult an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help get the benefits you need.