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Workers’ compensation system eagerly awaits key Supreme Court ruling

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Another Thursday has gone by and we continue to wait with bated breath on whether or not the Florida Supreme Court will rule whether the state’s workers’ compensation system is unconstitutional.

Two high-profile workers’ compensation cases still sit on the desk of the Court – (1) Castellanos v. Next Door Company and (2) Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg – both of which could have a negative impact on the state’s workers’ compensation system.

Putting the nitty gritty of each case aside for a moment, let’s focus on the heart of the system — its intent and whether it is actually doing its job.

As FloridaPolitics.com has reported over the last several years, the workers’ compensation system in Florida has continuously come under scrutiny from opponents looking to overhaul the reforms that were put in place in 2003 by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature.

According to the Division of Workers’ Compensation, the running list of reforms in 2003 included making changes to “Permanent Total Disability, Permanent Total Supplement, Permanent Partial Benefits, Practice Parameters and Protocols mandatory in medical care, changes to Independent Medical Examinations, Attorney Fee Award structure, Compliance, Exemptions, elimination of Supplemental Benefits,” among others.

The slew of changes to the system focused on one important goal: getting an injured worker back to work, and doing so by weeding out fraud in the no-fault system. The focus wasn’t on making the insurers, medical field or attorneys happy, it was on the employer and the employee.

Fast forward to today.

Business groups credit the reforms for helping drive down insurance rates (down more than 50 percent) and welcoming significant cost savings that allow for the purchase of better policies and coverage for employees.

Insurers credit the reforms for opening up the marketplace and creating a healthy and competitive environment.

The medical community credits the reforms for adequate medical reimbursement and access to care.

But what you won’t hear is trial lawyers crediting this “no-fault” system for much of anything – surprise, right?

While the system may not be perfect to every party involved, the numbers speak for themselves.

A report by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation in 2014 showed a vibrant, well-capitalized, competitive market with 254 privately owned insurers writing nearly $2.3 billion in coverage for 2013, and four insurers entering and three leaving the marketplace.

According to the same report, Florida’s rates are ranked 28th in the nation, a far cry from when we were consistently ranked the worst in the nation prior to 2003.

And, the report cites the reforms to the attorneys’ fee provisions as a significant factor in the decline in rates, which continues to impact them.  Rates are relatively stable with a rate increase of less than 1 percent in 2014 and a rate decrease of -5.2 percent for the 2015 rate filing.

So what does this all mean?

By my calculation, it appears that Florida’s workers’ compensation system is, in fact, effective and doing its job based on the reforms that swept the industry back in 2003.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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