Kentucky’s lawmakers filed nearly 900 bills during the 2018 General Assembly, and while many would undoubtedly have had an impact on the business community, perhaps the most significant to win approval was the legislation that modernizes the state’s workers’ compensation system.
The General Assembly’s pro-business actions played a strong role in delivering a record number of new jobs and investments in the state over the past year. But writing the next chapter in this success story required changes in workers’ compensation to modernize the system and address the challenges of recent court decisions.
There have been no meaningful changes in Kentucky’s system since 1996. That means the business community has been stuck with outdated statutes that do not take advantage of efficiencies and updates such as those other states have implemented.
For example, Kentucky, unlike 40 other states, had yet to adopt medical treatment guidelines. For years, injured workers with more common workplace injuries and treatments have experienced delays due to complicated approval processes that are easily remedied with the establishment of treatment guidelines.
The legislation approved during this session requires the adoption of a pharmaceutical protocol that can reduce the use of prescription opioid drugs while saving an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent in prescription drug costs. We all are trying to find a solution to the opioid crisis, and this is one way we can make a significant difference.
While the bill makes many improvements to the system, its passage was also critical because of what could have transpired had the legislation not been approved. Over the past few years, the Kentucky Supreme Court found several Kentucky workers’ compensation statutes unconstitutional, dealing a blow to every employer in the commonwealth.
We heard from some of our larger, self-insured chamber members that due to these negative Supreme Court decisions, they had to allocate six-figure increases for their workers’ comp reserve funds. That’s money that couldn’t be spent on hiring, expanding or community investments.
The Kentucky Chamber was not alone in its advocacy for the bill, joining with a coalition of nearly 50 businesses along with private and public agencies and associations to advance the cause. The Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky Retail Federation, the Kentucky Professional Firefighters Association and large important employers such as Toyota, Ford and UPS all joined with the Kentucky Chamber to demonstrate the broad appeal of the bill.
This coalition worked to include better benefits to injured workers. For example, the maximum average weekly wage that could be paid out to an injured worker was increased. The list of cancers presumed to be related to the work of firefighting was added to ensure that firefighters would receive treatment, and the 15-year cap on medical benefits that was part of an early version of the bill was softened to allow those who are permanently partially disabled to continue treatment for life, provided that an administrative law judge agrees treatment is warranted.
We commend the bill sponsor, Rep. Adam Koenig (Erlanger), for his tireless persistence in seeing this bill through the legislative process and Senate President Robert Stivers (Manchester) for his leadership in passing this bill in the Senate. The legislation improves Kentucky’s competitive position by reducing system costs while improving treatment and outcomes for injured workers, allowing a faster return to work and a reduced period of disability.
Thank you to the General Assembly for taking action to continue improving Kentucky’s position as a business-friendly state. ■
Dave Adkisson is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.