The Senate refused Friday to move toward the House position on workers’ compensation reform, but the House gave ground on how much to pay attorneys handling claims appeals.
Senate bill sponsor Rob Bradley offered an amendment that would have split the difference between the two chambers by paying attorneys as much as $200 per hour, but the Senate chose on a voice vote to retain his original language — $250.
The Senate voted, 21-16, to send the bill to the House
The House lobbed the bill back after voting to raise the maximum fee to $180, up from its previous position of $150.
The drama came on the last day of the Legislature’s regular session, on legislation considered must-pass by the insurance industry and business lobbies.
Bradley argued his amendment took a middle position between intractable antagonists — those lobbies and the trial bar.
“All the special interests are against it,” he said.
“For some people, that is a bad thing. I suggest to you that that’s a sign that us as public policymakers are not being dictated to by any one special interest or another. And that we’ve actually achieved, consistent with the spirit of the workers’ compensation law and its design, a balance.
“Because I promise you, if one side was doing cartwheels and the other one wasn’t … it would not reflect that grand bargain and balance that I’m describing.”
The bill is CS/HB 7085.
Sen. Gary Farmer, who offered the substitute amendment that prevailed on the fee issue, argued the original version was “more balanced and fair to all parties.”
Additionally, the Senate would require carriers to compete on rates, rather than submit rate proposals collectively through the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI.
The House version would allow carriers to depart from the common rate by 5 percent, up or down.
“It makes the rate-making process more transparent, so businesses can get, hopefully, better rates,” Farmer said.
In either case, departures from a statutory fee schedule would apply only when justified by a case’s difficulty.
Bradley’s amendment would have required the Department of Financial Services to engage an independent consultant to study the system for reimbursing medical providers through the workers’ compensation system.
The House bill would tie reimbursement to medical providers to Medicare rates, rather than through the existing fee for service system.
Bradley said that would cost providers as much as $300 million.
Both bills would extend temporary disability benefits from the existing 104 weeks to 260 — but the House bill would provide an additional 26 weeks if the worker hasn’t reached maximum medical improvement and cannot return to the job site.
The legislation is a response to Florida Supreme Court rulings last year striking limits on attorney fees and temporary disability payments.
Insurance carriers and their business allies, who consider workers’ compensation reforms must-pass legislation this year, blame those rulings for increasing costs to insurers and employers.
The Office of Insurance Regulation, in response to the rulings, approved a 14.5 percent increase in premiums that began to take effect in December. NCCI blames litigation cost for fully 10 percent of that increase.