Senate & House Pass Legislation For First Changes in Almost 40 Years
Unlike the laws for state workers’ compensation programs, which have changed, often significantly, over the past several years, the law governing workers’ compensation for civilian Federal employees – including the U.S. Postal Service – has not seen substantial change in almost 40 years. Amid signs that this status quo may be changing – both the Senate and the House have passed separate legislation in this Congress that would amend the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA).
Tighter Budgets Require Changes
In 2012, FECA benefits paid to injured employees, their surviving dependents, and their medical providers topped $3 billion for the first time. Those costs are billed to Federal agencies by the U.S. Department of Labor, and Federal agencies must include these bills in their annual appropriation. In an era of tighter budgets, personnel looking for ways to manage those costs will be attending Conference sessions at the 14th Annual Federal Workers’ Compensation Conference that address topics such as: challenging questionable claims, managing complex cases, and offering suitable light or limited duty positions. Speakers at this Conference, who include officials from the Department of Labor and various Federal agencies, as well as physicians and managed care specialists, are subject matter experts on different aspects of case management. In all, 47 separate courses on Federal workers’ compensation management, plus another 19 on Federal occupational safety and health, will be held at this Conference.
Underlying the Conference is speculation that FECA may be amended. The House passed legislation (H.R. 2465) in November of 2011 that would make minor changes in FECA, but the Senate passed legislation in April of 2012 (S. 1789) that would, as part of Postal Service reform, make some significant changes in the benefit rates paid under FECA, including lower rates for retirement-age workers and government-wide application of a 3-day waiting period that currently only applies to Postal Service employees. The fact that the 2012 elections are less than 4 months away leads some to believe that the chances for passage are slim, yet it is remembered that the last major changes in FECA were enacted in September of 1974 – two months before Congressional elections. It is also clear, given such evidence as a Presidential memorandum on Federal injury compensation in July of 2010, the Congressional legislation noted above, and increased attention by the Government Accountability Office which has issued two reports on FECA in the past year, that renewed attention is being focused on this program. Even if no legislation is enacted, however, the FECA program is rapidly evolving; within the past year alone, new regulations became effective, automated document submission began for both employees and employers, and additional fee schedules for medical services were put in place. The Atlanta Conference will include sessions on several of these recent changes.
Atlanta Conference to Include Sessions on Changes
The 14th Annual Federal Workers’ Compensation Conference will take place from July 24 – July 27 in Atlanta, GA. For more information please visit http://www.wcconf.org/
Author Ralph G. Slighter is the Deputy Division Chief of the Injury Compensation and Unemployment Compensation Division (ICUC) for the Department of Defense. He will present at a variety of sessions at the Federal Workers’ Compensation Conference including, “Trends in Society and the Future of Federal Employees Compensation.” For more information on the sessions that Ralph Slighter will be teaching please refer to the conference schedule http://www.wcconf.org/sites/default/files/pdf/program.pdf .