California Committee Takes Over Comp Reform Effort

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By Gary Mogel

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NU Online News Service, July 11, 1:30 p.m.EDT?California's Assembly and Senate have agreed to createa bipartisan conference committee to consider major reforms to thestate's troubled workers' compensation system.

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The Assembly's Insurance Committee and the Senate's IndustrialRelations Committee will establish a six-member conferencecommittee, with three members coming from the Assembly and threefrom the Senate. Four members will be Democrats and three will beRepublicans, although no specific members have been chosen yet.

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While pleased with the Legislature's action, Jeanne Cain, theWashington, D.C.-based American Insurance Association's vicepresident for the Western region, said that a conference committeeis "not a panacea," and that "we must hold policymakers' feet tothe fire" to ensure the passage of meaningful reform. "A band-aidapproach will not help," Ms. Cain stressed.

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Reforms being considered include expanding and closing gaps inthe workers' comp medical fee schedules, adopting an independentmedical review system, changing the permanent disability ratingprocess, and curbing over-utilization of chiropractors.

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"In my 30 years covering the California Legislature, I've neverseen a conference committee to which so many bills [20] wereassigned," said Alister McAlister, counsel for the Sacramento-basedAssociation of California Insurance Companies.

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Mr. McAlister noted that the Republicans in the Legislaturesupport strong workers' comp reforms. He added that the Democrats"know they have a tiger by the tail" and must pass some reforms,but are having difficulty in accepting changes in the determinationof permanent disability ratings and certain other items, includingreforms that organized labor is having a hard time accepting.

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"They [Republicans and Democrats] may get together on medicalcost control and a moratorium on benefit increases," Mr. McAlisterpredicted.

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