With 2014 Comes More Changes Due to SB 863
By Amy C. Leung, Esq.
The recently adopted Senate Bill (SB) 863 made significant changes to the Workers' Compensation laws in California. Certain aspects of SB 863 went into effect on January 1, 2014. The following is a rundown of the new developments.
The first concerns Medical Provider Networks (MPNs). In the event of a work-related injury, most employers have a list of doctors in their MPNs with whom the injured worker is required to treat, provided certain requirements are met. As of January 1, 2014, each MPN is required to have one or more persons serving as a medical access assistant to help injured employees find available physicians and help schedule medical appointments. Every MPN is now also required to post a roster of all treating physicians on its website and update the roster quarterly. The MPN is required to provide the website address to the State of California Department of Workers' Compensation, which, in turn, must post these MPN links on its own website. We at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK) are hopeful these changes will help provide more expedient medical treatment to injured workers. There will be additional regulations implemented this year that will further define these new rules; we will keep you updated.
Another change that became effective on January 1 concerns permanent partial disability (PPD) rates. PPD payments are, in part, calculated based upon an individual's average weekly earnings. For injuries occurring prior to January 1, 2014, the minimum and maximum weekly PPD rate varied depending on the percentage of permanent disability. A permanent disability level of 70 percent or greater received a higher weekly rate. For injuries occurring after January 1, 2014, the PPD weekly rate is now the same regardless of the percentage of disability. That rate is two-thirds of your weekly salary, with a minimum of $160 and maximum of $290 per week. This change will potentially increase the permanent disability monetary award for all percentages of disability for injuries that occur after January 1, 2014. The number of benefit weeks increases with the severity of the disability.
SB 863 also made changes to the Supplemental Job Displacement Voucher (SJDV), which is a voucher for education-related retraining or skill enhancement available under certain circumstances. For some injuries prior to January 1, 2013, the benefit ranged from $4,000 to $10,000, depending on the percentage of permanent disability (PD). Now for injuries on or after January 1, 2013, you may be entitled to a SJDV benefit of a maximum of $6,000 regardless of the PD percentage, if the employer does not make an offer of regular, modified or alternate work within certain time frames. A voucher issued on or after January 1, 2013 now has time limits: it expires two years after it was furnished, or five years after the date of injury, whichever is later. SB 863 also expanded the scope of which the voucher can be applied. For injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2013, the voucher can be applied to education-related expenses including up to $1,000 for the purchase of computer equipment, payment of professional and examination fees, and up to $500 in miscellaneous expense reimbursement.
When it comes to Workers' Compensation laws, change is inevitable. GEK attorneys remain updated on the latest developments, and are constantly working on strategies to help ensure justice for injured workers. If you have questions about your legal options, please click here or call 213-739-7000.