Juge, Napolitano, Guilbeau, Ruli, Frieman & Whiteley
The Louisiana Workers Compensation Reform bill (SB 581) sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Self-Insured Employers (LASIE) was withdrawn by the author from the Senate Labor Committee agenda Thursday May 29th. Thus, for this session, the efforts of LASIE and the supporters of this bill must end in disappointment. Perhaps our characterization of the experience as “Paradise Lost” is hyperbolic but there is a feeling among the proponents of the bill that they have lost an opportunity to bring significant change to the world of workers compensation in the State of Louisiana.
Although the bill underwent numerous reductions in its scope during the period between its introduction and May 29th, it retained two important elements that were worthy of their labors. The reform bill introduced a preamble into the workers compensation law that removed the previous jurisprudential mandate that the law be “liberally construed in favor of the worker” and instead proclaimed that the law was to be strictly construed by the courts and not given an interpretation in favor of the employee or the employer. The other significant reform in this bill was the introduction of treatment guidelines that providers would be required to follow (or else the treatment would not be owed by the employer). An early supporter of the guidelines was the Louisiana Hospital Association. Additional provider groups were then added to the supports of the bill as they recognized that guidelines will eventually be mandated and they also noted that with the statutory presumption that the treatment within the guidelines was proper treatment there should be no delay in approving and paying for such treatment. The one provider group hold-out was the “pain management” physicians. They apparently had sufficient political clout to insist on having a variety of national guidelines to apply to the treatment of an injured worker. The consensus among the supports of firm guidelines was that this would mean that there really would be no limits placed on the provider. Thus, the bill was withdrawn to avoid having meaningless guidelines.
Legislation Still on the Move
Katrina Travel – HB 338 was drafted by Larry Frieman of our office and presented to the House Labor Committee by Denis Juge (the bill was reported favorably by the committee). The bill addresses the issue of injured workers who have moved out of state due to hurricane Katrina and charge the employer mileage for travel to South Louisiana supposedly for treatment by their replica panerai watches physician when they are really having the employer pay for their visit to family and friends. The bill states that the employer is not responsible for such travel provided there is comparable medical care in the area of the claimant’s residence.
Death Benefits – HB 535 was also drafted by Larry Frieman and presented to the House Labor Committee by Denis Juge. This bill clarifies R.S. 23:1232 regarding how to distribute death benefits when there is a spouse and children qualifying for benefits and there are children from multiple marriages. The bill states that the benefits are divided “equally”. This bill was also reported favorably by the committee.
Workers Compensation Insurance – HB 554 addresses the problem which was particularly aggravated by Katrina of employers failing to maintain workers fake cartier watches compensation insurance. The original bill amended R.S. 23:1171.1 to require the workers compensation judge to issue an order that the employer cease operating its business if they fail to obtain workers compensation insurance. The bill was amended (after the author consulted with LABI and Denis Juge) to give the employer ninety days to obtain insurance before the cease and desist order would be issued. (Reported favorably by House Labor Committee)
Filing Fees – HB 547 was an administration bill to require payment of the filing fee at the time of filing a Form 1008 rather than at the end of the litigation. This bill had no opposition and was reported favorably by the committee.
Employer Fraud in Classifying Employees – HB 1083 was originally limited to the construction industry but was amended at the House Labor Committee to include all industries. The bill establishes penalties for employers who improperly classify employees as “independent contractors” to deprive the employee of social security, workers compensation or other benefits. The bill was reported favorably by the committee.
The Use PPOs in workers compensation – SB 276 was a “sleeper” that was given new life following negations between the supports of the bill and the attorney for providers in the PPO litigation, Tom Filo. The bill establishes the notice requirements for employers who use a PPO to discount provider bills and also outlines the penalties if the notice is not properly given to the provider. Considerable opposition was presented to the Senate Labor Committee when brought up for consideration May 29th. The bill’s author ( Senator Cassidy) asked the committee to report the bill favorably so that it would have a chance to get through the process before the end of the session and he agreed to withdraw the bill if the various parties could not agree on amendments. The bill was reported favorably by the committee. A meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday to work on the amendments. Denis Juge was asked to participate on behalf of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).