It is unusual for Workers’ Comp to be in the headlines, but thanks to the ongoing saga of Tom Noe, the system is getting more press-even if it is negative! Coingate made it back into the news this week, with the Ohio Supreme Court denying Tom Noe’s request to hear appeals from his theft and corruption convictions of 2006. You will recognize Noe’s name and Coingate from several years ago, when it was discovered that Noe lost millions of the BWC’s invested money on rare coin deals. The discovery resulted in Noe’s 18 year prison sentence and numerous investigations into who was investing and how the investing was being done at the BWC.
In the wake of Coingate, injured workers saw the BWC tighten its purse strings even more. And though their financial dealings were audited, the BWC’s claims procedures remained as unfair and anti-injured-worker as always. The other news this week, though, gives us a little bit hope, with some proposed rule changes that actually make the system a little bit better for injured workers!
The BWC has its own rule making authority and it periodically changes and updates its rules on how to process injury claims, how to pay benefits under claims, and how to handle treatment matters. Generally, the changes to the rules over the last ten years have cut benefits and made the system more complicated. Today, however, the BWC is holding public hearings on two rule changes that actually benefit injured workers.
First, the BWC proposes to change the time period for a claim to become “medically inactive.” Under the current rules, a claim is “medically inactive” if no treatment has been paid under the claim for a period of thirteen months or more. An injured worker can still ask for treatment to be paid after thirteen months, but he or she has to ask the BWC to reactivate the claim by providing medical evidence to prove the treatment is necessary and related to the original injury. This usually ends up in a hearing before the Industrial Commission to have the claim “reactivated.” Even an office visit to see the doctor for a check up puts you back in the system, fighting for something that should just be paid. Today, the BWC proposes to extend that thirteen month time period to twenty four months. If the rule is approved, a claim will not be “medically inactive” unless two years has passed without any treatment being paid under the claim. This would give injured workers a longer period of time to seek treatment, without having to face the hearing process. It would make it easier for injured workers to get treatment and for doctors to give treatment under a workers’ compensation claim.
Second, the BWC proposes a change to payment of benefits for loss of use and amputation awards. The law provides for awards to injured workers who lose fingers, toes, hands, feet or full limbs as a result of accidents on the job. In addition to awards for amputations, the law also recognizes loss of use of body parts because of pain and/or stiffness of joints. Currently, this award requires the filing of an application with medical evidence, and usually an exam with a state doctor and then a hearing. Part of the proposed changes to the rule will make it easier to prove entitlement to the award. Now, the award is paid out over a set number of weeks, depending upon the body part. The other proposed change to the rule will allow the award to be paid out in a lump sum of money. This will enable injured workers’ to get the benefit all at once rather than over months or years.
Both of these changes will be beneficial to injured workers in Ohio-if they pass. Both claimant advocates and employer representatives will be in Columbus today to have their say on the proposed changes. When you see that the politicians are at the root of who runs the BWC and who makes the rules, you can see how important it is that we all do our part to make sure that the people in Columbus are the people who have in mind the best interests of the injured workers in this state and NOT the employers.