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 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.