House approves workers’ comp reforms

The House on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill that would overhaul federal workers’ compensation programs for the first time in almost 40 years and make it easier to catch cheats.

HR 2465, the Federal Workers’ Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act, would give the Labor Department more power to identify employees who illegally work elsewhere while receiving federal workers’ compensation. Labor would be able to check Social Security Administration earnings data to make sure a workers’ comp recipient isn’t double dipping.

The bill would also expand benefits to federal employees killed or severely injured in the line of duty — up to $6,000 for funeral expenses when an employee dies from on-the-job injuries and up to $50,000 for an employee whose face, head or neck is severely disfigured in the line of duty.

The bill would allow physician assistants and advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, to certify that someone has been disabled by a traumatic injury. That provision is expected to speed up the process for someone to receive disability benefits.

The bill’s sponsors, who include Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., say that would help federal workers in rural areas who often have limited access to medical care.

“The federal workers’ compensation has not been significantly updated in almost 40 years,” Walberg said. “As is too often the case with government programs left unchecked, waste and inefficiencies have crept into the system, leading to poor use of taxpayer resources and diminished support for those the program is intended to serve. This legislation will help ensure federal employees have access to a program that reflects the realities of today’s economy and the best practices in medical care.”

California Democratic representatives George Miller and Lynn Woolsey are co-sponsors of the bill.

The bill also seeks to streamline the claims process for workers who are seriously injured in a combat zone. And injuries or illnesses caused by terrorist attacks would be covered as a war-risk hazard.

The House bill differs from a Senate workers’ comp bill introduced in February by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. That bill would require federal and postal employees on workers’ comp to retire when they turn 65, which the House bill does not require.