Workers' bill offers hope

April 21, 2004

Ryan Carter

A workers' compensation reform bill signed Monday by Gov. Arnold

Schwarzenegger might be a tough sell to some local businesses. But

many agree that the bill signals reform for a bloated system that

hurts business.

"It's a great step in the right direction," said Gary Olson,

president of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce. "It's not going to be a


panacea, but it is supposed to help streamline the system and provide

cost relief to employers. The business community welcomes that the

Legislature finally taking needed action."

Time will tell, said Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Burbank), who on

Friday was pushing for a rate-relief bill that would regulate

workers' compensation insurance rates.

"If Gov. Schwarzenegger approves the rate-relief bill, I think we

will see real reductions by the end of the year," he said.

The reform package passed Friday and signed Monday includes

cutting billions in costs from the $22-billion workers' compensation

system, which had employers in the Burbank area lamenting

skyrocketing insurance rates.

Among the provisions of the bill are changes allowing workers to

receive immediate care for injuries suffered at work. Previously,

employers had 90 days to approve worker claims. But the bill also

limits medical benefits and workers' ability to find their own

doctors. Concerned that some workers were seeking certain doctors for

a favorable diagnosis, lawmakers wrote the provision letting

employers approve a pool of medical providers to treat injured


Under the new law, employees unhappy with their care can request

up to two more opinions from doctors from within the pool of

physicians. If they remain unhappy with their care, a state-certified

doctor would provide what lawmakers call an independent appraisal of

a workers' injury. If that doctor found an injured employee was not

receiving appropriate care, the patient could go outside of the pool.

Sunder Ramani, general manager of Beauty Kiss Floors, applauded

new standards for care and limits on the employee's previous ability

to use repeated doctor visits to find a favorable diagnosis.

"Under the prior law, you could go to the doctor ad nauseam," he


That ability raised rates because the insurance company ultimately

has to pick up the tab for those doctor visits, and that tab is

reflected in premiums, Ramani said.

Frommer said the legislation aims to get workers back to work

quicker and reduce the time it takes to settle claims. Workers could

see specialists sooner, he said. Businesses would have incentive to

move claims faster because their rates would decrease the sooner

their workers return.

Still, some were cautious about claims of real reform.

"Anything agreed to at 3 in the morning you should be suspicious

of," said Ernest Burger, chairman of the chamber's governmental

affairs committee. "I hope that the net result is as touted. I'm

hopeful, but reserved. You can't effectively control a market through

governmental fiat. It just doesn't work well."

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