The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee has scheduled a public hearing on two good workers’ compensation bills for Wednesday, February 4, at 1:30 p.m. (Always subject to change, you know.)
SB 5509 clarifies the definition of occupational disease. SB 5513 makes it easier for workers to enter into settlement settlement agreements for workers’ compensation claims. In our research report, we said this about these two issues.
[Washington] has consistently had the highest workers’ compensation benefit costs in the country. In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, benefit costs averaged $840 per covered worker, nearly twice the U.S. average of $434.98 In 2011, the Legislature allowed workers who are at least 55 years old (dropping to 50 in 2016) to voluntarily settle their claims with structured settlements. Opportunities to build on this reform might include expanding the use of voluntary settlements to workers of any age. Voluntary settlements bring closure for workers and reduce long-duration time-loss claims.
Clarifying the definition of what constitutes an occupational disease (a condition warranting workers’ compensation) would also help control costs. Over 1997-2009, “occupational disease claims have been a rising proportion of all compensable claims in Washington while their proportion has fallen in both Oregon and British Columbia.”99 In Washington, the definition of occupational disease is very broad. The lack of clarity means diseases may be covered that are not directly caused by workplace exposure, but are instead ordinary diseases of life. Other states (e.g. Virginia) exclude common illnesses and specify when a disease arises out of employment.
The two bills being heard tomorrow would continue promising reform efforts. For more background and context, see this analysis by the Washington Research Council.