Senate workers’ comp sponsor open to compromise as bill heads to floor - Florida Politics

Senate workers’ comp sponsor open to compromise as bill heads to floor

The Senate’s workers’ compensation package passed its final committee test Wednesday, as its sponsor expressed willingness to compromise with the House over conflicting language on attorney fees and medical payments.

“I do think that we can land in a place where, when they score the final product, it will show more rate reduction than they’re scoring the Senate product at this time,” Sen. Jeff Bradley told members of the Rules Committee.

“I understand there are a lot of moving parts to arrive at that place, and I look forward to continuing the discussion with all the stakeholders — with the understanding that everybody’s going to have to give a little to get to where we need to be,” he said.

The committee voted, 10-0, to send his bill to the Senate floor, acting shortly after the House approved its workers’ compensation bill, HB 7085.

The Senate bill, CS/SB 1582, is more generous that the House version with attorney fees — it would let compensation claims judges depart from the state’s fee schedule by as much as $250 per hour if justified, as opposed to $150 in the House.

The Senate also is more generous with medical providers than the House, which would shift treatment payments from the existing charge-based system to a schedule tied to Medicare rates.

Another significant difference is that the Senate would shift to a loss cost premium-setting system, whereby insurers would independently propose rates to state regulators, instead of as a group, as most do now.

Bradley acknowledged the Senate bill would produce a smaller decrease in premium levels than the House version — by a “small to moderate” amount, versus at least 5 percent in the House.

“I would just like to weigh in for more rate reductions,” Sen. Tom Lee said, although he acknowledged that would mean taking something away from some party or parties to the system.

Everything, Bradley suggested, is negotiable.

“The Senate’s not interested in taking it all out of the hide of the hospitals. We also understand that we need to have a serious discussion about the attorney fee provision, to find some middle ground with the House on that, as well,” he said.

“As far as the loss cost versus full rate, that’s an ongoing dialog. I will tell you that the insurance community is not unified on that issue.”

Defense attorney fees are also at issue, Bradley said.

“I will tell you, talking to business owners, they don’t really care whether the attorney is representing the insurance company or representing the claimant — they just don’t want to pay attorneys, because that drives costs in the system,” Bradley said.

Committee members indicated they understood negotiations would continue.

“Clearly, we all want this conversation to continue, and I think that’s what the majority of us will be voting for today — for us to continue the conversation, hoping we can land the bill on the floor,” Sen. Jeff Brandes said.

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

1 Comment

  1. Mr. Bradley is correct in asserting that us “small business” owners don’t want to pay attorneys especially in light of the tremendous increase in our premiums much of which is attributable to the insane supreme court ruling here in Florida. But another issue that is causing our company so much added financial strain is the other part of the ruling that allows the free-loader type employees to continue to recieve benefits for 4-5 years. In our business there is much abuse in that area. Our experience mod is a very good .79 but our premiums still increased by approximately 60% due to the reserves required to cover the open cases we have! The nonsense has got to stop and common sense must prevail and that will not happen until you shackle the attorneys!!

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