March 5, 2003
The last major legislative reforms to Florida’s workers compensation system occurred during the 1993 Legislative session. Since that time it has become obvious that many of those provisions do not work, including payment for impairment which greatly increased permanent total disability claims and payment of attorney’s fees based on hourly rates. The current system is on a downward spiral. Many carriers can no longer afford to offer worker’s compensation coverage in the state and many employers cannot afford the premiums to furnish this mandatory coverage to their workers. Additionally, the injured workers in today’s system often face lengthy delays in resolution of disputes and find themselves stuck
Over the past few years Associated Industries of Florida has observed these changes and predicted the affect they would have on the worker’s compensation market and on Florida’s economy as a whole. About five years ago AIF began drafting legislative proposals that would revitalize the market, make premiums more affordable, give higher benefits to injured workers, and reform the system. However, we were frequently alone in seeking these needed reforms and questioned by legislators as to why other business and insurance groups were not voicing the same concerns.
AIF took these concerns seriously and set out to determine if other business groups and insurers were feeling the same system pressures. We discovered a great many people and businesses facing difficult economic choices due to a number of issues including fraud in construction exemptions, rising premiums, and a greater volume of permanent total disability claims. These groups began working together to identify the toughest challenges facing Florida businesses and finding solutions to those problems that would result in lower costs and increased benefits.
As a result of this effort, the Coalition of Business and Industry was created. Today this organization has over 35 employer and insurance member groups, which collectively represent thousands of businesses across
Florida . For the past 2 years, this group has avidly lobbied the Legislature to educate the lawmakers on the problems with the current system and give them the resources to pass the most viable solutions. Last year the Coalition was instrumental in passing several procedural reforms that speed up the dispute resolution process for injured workers and help deliver benefits to them more timely.
This year the Coalition has drafted legislation that is being sponsored in the Senate by Senator J.D. Alexander and in the House by Representative Connie Mack. This bill includes significant reform measures including elimination of hourly rates on attorney’s fees, removal of the antiquated social security criteria from permanent total disability evaluations, doubling the impairment benefits paid to injured workers and elimination of exemptions in the construction industry. This bill has already garnered support in both the House and the Senate, although there are several other “reform” bills that are being proposed for the upcoming session. The Coalition’s bill, though, is the only proposal that has been documented by NCCI to produce a cost savings and still provides greater benefits to injured workers.