Employer groups are threatening to bolt and trial lawyers are in open revolt as lawmakers spend the final days of the 2017 session haggling over workers’ compensation reforms.
The trouble began last year when the Florida Supreme Court struck down business-friendly reforms dating back more than a decade. Gone were strict caps on attorney fees and limits on disability benefits.
“I want to also talk about workers’ comp. This is, I think, maybe the most important business issue of the session.”
That was Florida Chamber of Commerce vice president David Hart addressing North Florida business leaders on the eve of the current session.
Insurance premiums spiked, hurting bottom lines across the state, Hart said.
“The 14.5 percent increase which became effective December 1 will keep hitting you and every other employer in this state as each month goes by and your renewal date approaches.”
Republican Senator Rob Bradley of Fleming Island wanted to make Florida a “loss cost,” state. It would allow carriers to propose rates individually, rather than funnel them collectively through a trade group known as NCCI.
“When you’re trying to achieve a goal of keeping rates down and keeping them stabilized, you need to look at everything. And included in that is, when our system goes about developing rates, is there competition among the insurance companies?”
Bradley also proposed changing the way judges award attorney fees when injured workers dispute claims. Judges could award up to 250 dollars an hour. The House wants to keep NCCI, and set a 150-dollar-an hour cap.
In the waning hours of session, Bradley has agreed to drop his “loss cost” proposal and to a 200-dollar-an-hour cap. Florida Workers’ Advocates head Mark Touby, warns it won’t work.
“It is not going to make any transparency in the rate-making process. It is not going to assist injured workers in any way, and it is not going to stabilize rates and help businesses get their injured workers back efficiently.”
Based in Tallahassee, FWA includes attorneys who specialize in workers compensation law. Business interests will regret supporting the House plan when rates continue to spiral upward, Touby says.
But National Federation of Independent Business head Bill Herrle reminds critics that state regulators still make the final call on rates.
“We put confidence in our insurance commissioner to take sharp pencils out and examine the data that the industry presents, and recognize, that it’s mountains of data.”
Bradley sacrificed FWA support by conceding to the House. Now employer groups are threatening to fight the bill too, if he refuses to come down to 150.
But FWA’s Touby says no bill would be better than the House plan. After all, Touby says, the Supreme Court rulings haven’t led to massive layoffs or business failures.
“The employers of this state are doing just fine because there’s nothing wrong with the way the system is right now. The point of this legislation was to make the system better, not to make it worse.”