Doctors Push Back on Work Comp Overhaul

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Doctors and hospitals upset with the way a proposed workers’ compensation overhaul would send less money their way believe they can persuade business and labor interests to change a carefully crafted compromise that has been three years in the making.

Last month, a legislative interim committee unanimously signed off on the workers’ compensation overhaul despite stiff opposition from trial lawyers and the medical community — sending it on its way to the full Legislature that meets in January.

But earlier this month, the Economic Affairs Committee agreed to reopen the issue due to stiff resistance from doctors and hospitals. The sponsor of the bill will meet with the all of the interest groups, and then will decide if enough consensus has been reached to merit changing the compromise proposal.

Bob Olsen, vice president of the Montana Hospital Association, said the panel of business and labor interests that drafted the plan erroneously believed that medical charges in Montana are too high. He said the proposed cutbacks would reimburse the hospitals far less than seen elsewhere.

In total, the proposal would reduce reimbursement to hospitals $18 million and doctors about $18 million.

“I am pretty confident that when we work through this we will come to an agreement on some sort of language,” Olsen said.

Supporters remain hopeful the time is right for an overhaul after more than three years of work by a committee of labor and business representatives, and two years of work by the legislative panel.

Business interests say the insurance is far too expensive in Montana. They say Montana employers can pay more than 4 percent of a worker’s wage for work comp insurance, and aim to get it closer to the national average of below two percent.

The plan would also save the state money for all the workers it insures, a big bonus for lawmakers who will be dealing with a tight budget.

Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, said any revisions will only deal with complaints from the medical community that treat the injured workers, and not the lawyers who represent them in disputes.

He said there is only a possibility changes will be made because the compromise was so difficult to reach in the first place.

“I think the potential is there to upset the apple cart if all the sudden the deal is changed,” he said. “It would be surprising to me if the group wanted to make any major changes.”

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