The Kentucky Legislature is moving toward passing a major overhaul of its workers’ compensation system that would eliminate the guarantee of lifetime benefits for some injured workers.
The state’s most substantial workers’ comp reforms in decades have pitted business groups against organized labor and law enforcement groups. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Kentucky Coal Association claim businesses have to pay too much for workers’ comp insurance.
The measure passed the Kentucky Senate last week, with Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, saying it would promote a “very fair process.”
“It does things for … the injured worker and it gives certainty to the industry for what their costs and liabilities would be,” he said.
A centerpiece of the legislation provides that workers receiving benefits for permanent-partial disability resulting from an on-the-job injury — that is, permanent injuries where an employee can return to work — would have to reapply for benefits after 15 years and have their case reviewed by an administrative law judge.
Under current law, workers with permanent-partial disability receive lifetime benefits. The new law would apply only to future injury claims.
Opponents of the bill say permanent-partial injuries often can result in nagging medical problems lasting a lifetime and the recertification process would put the burden on injured workers to show they should continue receiving medical benefits. They also contend that workers’ comp premiums paid by Kentucky employers have been declining.
“I can’t see the need for such a sweeping overhaul of the workers’ compensation law,” said Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey.
House Bill 2 will now return to the Kentucky House, which will consider changes made by senators. If the House accepts the revised version, it will go to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. The most severely injured workers — considered permanently, totally disabled — would still receive lifetime medical benefits.
“This legislation represents an opportunity for Kentucky to improve its competitiveness relative to other states in terms of attracting and retaining business,” Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Ashli Watts said.