by Jennifer M. Smith, Esq.

State Board Chairman Rick Thompson announced the proposed legislative measures for 2013 at the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Seminar last week. The most significant change is a 400 week cap on medical benefits in non-catastrophic cases. In catastrophic cases, the employee would still be entitled to lifetime medical benefits. Currently, an employee can be entitled to lifetime medical benefits on non-catastrophic claims. Although this proposal will obviously decrease medical exposure on claims, realistically very few non-catastrophic claims make it to the 350 week or 400 week cap; they typically settle beforehand or become catastrophic. Employers and insurers can likely expect an increase in requests for catastrophic designations, or at least threats of this, if the proposed legislation passes.

The trade off for the 400 week cap on non-catastrophic medical is other proposed changes which are more favorable to the employee. Most importantly, the maximum weekly TTD rate will increase from $500 to $525. This increase was expected, however, as it will have been six years since the last rate increase in 2007.

Also important, the turnaround time for mileage reimbursement will only be 15 days instead of 30 days, before a penalty will be assessed. Currently, the penalty for late mileage reimbursement is 10% if paid within 30-60 days and after 60 days, the penalty is 20%.

Also, the interest rate on lump sum advancements would decrease from 7% to 5%. This change is not surprising, given the current state of the economy.

Finally, a proposed change to Rule 240 regarding an employee’s return to light duty work is more favorable for the employer/insurer. Currently TTD benefits must be automatically reinstated if a claimant returns to work pursuant to Rule 240 but fails to continue working for 15 days. The proposed change drops the 15 day requirement to only 1 day or 8 hours. While we expect claimant’s attorneys will counsel their clients to stop working at the first sign of discomfort while performing the light duty work, we believe this will be helpful for employers as 15 days allows a lot of time for abuse.

This legislative package was approved by members of the legislative committee and will be sent to Governor Nathan Deal this week for review. The legislative session begins in January 2013.