As the implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues to spark debate over medical care costs, a recently proposed bill looks to reform Wisconsin’s current worker’s compensation program in light of the recent law.
The bill, one in a rash of legislation across the country that aims to create new regulation under the Affordable Care Act, is sponsored by Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, and Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown.
“Over the last few months I have been working with business owners, the labor community and medical professionals in hopes of finding a solution that works for everyone,” Knodl said.
Established in 1911, the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act implemented a compensation program in which employers are responsible for paying employees’ injuries that occur on the job, according to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.
Under the current system, Wisconsin workers choose their own healthcare provider and doctor. The cost of the procedure is then approved by comparing the cost of the procedure to the mean cost statewide.
“Right now it is not unusual for hospitals to charge patients twice as much for worker’s compensation claims as regular insurance claims,” Grothman said. “The hospitals and doctors charge some of the highest rates in the country which get passed on to Wisconsin businesses.”
The proposed bill would initially set stricter guidelines for the range of acceptable costs. However, by July 2015 , this system would be eliminated and strict price ceilings representing the maximum cost for procedures would be standard across the state.
According to data from the Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau, employers paid an estimated total amount of $1.72 billion in worker’s compensation insurance premiums.
“The key thing to understand is that this push for worker’s comp reform is in a national crisis over the price of healthcare,” Barry Eidlin, a University of Wisconsin expert in labor politics, said. “This isn’t just happening in Wisconsin, this is happening all over the country.”
Eidlin said states such as California and New York have already passed changes to their respective compensation programs and other states are considering reform to worker’s compensation as well.
However, he said opponents of the bill claim establishing price ceilings would only shift the costs from business to healthcare providers.
“Passing the workman’s compensation bill might do some good in the short term, but won’t address the long term problem,” Eidlin said. “I don’t think there’s a big winner or loser here. It’s not really addressing the bigger problem; what are we going to do about healthcare costs?”
[Photo from Flickr user rachaelvoorhees]