Comprehensive workers' compensation reforms in Tennessee could end up being a model for the nation. A new state agency will be handling the claims and Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation that puts penalties in place for premium fraud. They're taking the workers' compensation claims out of the court system and handing it off to that new agency. This legislation was recommended by the Misclassification Advisory Task Force of Tennessee:
"HB 551/SB 833 Administrative penalties for premium fraud: (1) Allows the labor department to fine construction service providers for workers’ compensation premium fraud. (2) Penalty money to be deposited into an enforcement fund and such fund can be used to purchase a data system for identifying potential violators and for hiring additional investigators. (3) Uncovered violations must also be reported to the Tenn. Bureau of Investigation or the appropriate district attorney. (4) Effective July 1, 2013."
The American Insurance Association applauded the signing of SB 200, which moves the court-based adjudicatory system to an administrative-based one.
State Representative Kevin Brooks wrote in The Chattanoogan that the workers' compensation reforms they're enacting came about because conservative Republicans worked on solving this problem for ethical employers and their employees:
"When Governor Haslam and lawmakers met with small business owners all across the state prior to this year’s legislative session, they were in agreement that the top issue was Tennessee’s worker’s compensation system. Workers’ Compensation is an insurance program, adopted in Tennessee in 1919, that compensates employees for injuries they suffer on the job. Employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover the costs of medical expenses and lost wages of employees when they suffer work-related injuries. There is no question, the workers’ compensation system itself is something our state needs and will always have in case a worker is injured on the job.
Recently, however, both employers and employees have discovered numerous problems with current workers’ compensation laws. Indeed, the current process for determining benefits is cumbersome for determining injury benefits, unpredictable and time-consuming, and employees are often unable to receive benefits and return to work in a timely manner. In addition, workers’ compensation rates for employers in Tennessee are higher than the national average and higher than all eight of our bordering states.
With these issues in mind, Tennessee Republicans committed to creating a workers’ compensation system that provides protection and faster service for employees, while creating a more fair and predictable environment in which to conduct business and create jobs. The Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013 will give all Tennessean’s a more fair and streamlined system of reconciling workers’ compensation claims.
Under the new system, workers will see a reduction in the time it takes to receive permanent benefits and will also experience an improvement in medical treatment. The process for resolving disputes will be quicker, allowing injured workers to receive compensation and return to work sooner so they can continue to earn a paycheck and provide for their families. In addition, injured workers will have the services of an ombudsman whose role is to answer questions, explain the workers’ compensation process, and help employees complete paperwork."
Opponents of the reforms say that the remedial settlement of claims is a problem and they hope that can be changed by the legislature in its next session.