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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Government Shutdown is a Kick-In-Gut to Workers' Compensation

Workers' Compensation programs will be impacted by a Government shutdown because of both the offset provisions of the Social Security Act and the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP). Even The SMART Act, recently enacted to hopefully establish a more efficient collection process will be derailed.

As the US House of Representatives, under Republican leadership influenced by The Tea Party, likened in Aaron Sorkin's HBO program, The Newsroom, as "The American Taliban," passed legislation to shutdown the US Government this Tuesday, serious concern exists as to the consequences of the shutdown on workers' compensation programs throughout the nation. 

In many States, whether or not a reverse offset exists, it is essential to determine what a claimant's Average Current Earnings (ACE) are to calculate, and reach a final determination of temporary and permanent disability, in a state workers' compensation claim. The access to those numbers will become difficult to obtain because of administrative rollbacks, and anticipated further delays in claims processing. Even though Federal payments will be forthcoming under protective measures, the claims process will be derailed.

Likewise, the process to obtain conditional payment information will be delayed or non-existent. The provisions of the Medicare Secondary Payer Act mandating reimbursement to The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be put on hold. Similarly, reviews for future medical compromises embodied in the Workers' Compensation Medicare Set-aside Agreements (WCMSA) will be delayed just because of administrative cutbacks in the claims system, including the appeals process.

The recently enacted provisions of The SMART Act. long sought by a coalition of cottage industries, and compensation parties, to the reimbursement process itself, will face its first major challenge to implementation as the Internet web-portable becomes non-functional. Recently proposed final Rules will face delay in implementation as the exchange of comments under the rulemaking process become further delayed in the process of submission and response.

Overall, the workers who most need the system to function, and who waited the longest time, in waiting for final adjudication of their claims, will become victim of the process. No matter how long the shutdown extends, the Federal action will highlight the continued deterioration of the complex patchwork process know as workers' compensation. The now antiquated, and once expeditious and remedial insurance system, will have suffered yet another devastating blow in its attempt to survive in a radically changing economic and socio-political system.

Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.