Research Notes

House committee holds hearing on federal workers’ compensation reform

Steven Brown Office Smile (1)Changes have been proposed to the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act and it is essential that injured federal workers and federal workers’ compensation attorneys are aware of how such changes will affect injured federal workers and the processing of FECA claims . In the last Congress, the full House passed a bipartisan bill to update the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), but the bill was never taken up by the Senate.  The bill, HR 2465, came out of the House Education & the Workforce Committee and proposed the following changes to the statute (5 U.S.C. §§8101 et seq.):

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District of Columbia employees

Amends §8101 to exclude D.C employees, who have their own WC law effective 03/03/79.

 

 

Physicians’ Assistants and Nurse Practitioners

Amends §§8101(3), 8103(b), and 8121(6) to provide that the services of Physicians’ Assistants or Nurse Practitioners are covered medical services and allow them to certify disability for periods of COP in traumatic injury cases only.

 

 

Injuries outside of U. S.

Amends §8102(b) to strike outdated language, and to include injuries from terrorist attacks.

 

 

Schedule Award Disfigurement

Amends §8107(c)(21) – maximum of $3,500 increased to $50,000 for disfigurement of the head, face or neck, effective for injuries starting 3 years prior to date of enactment. Adds language adjusting this amount yearly using the existing FECA cost of living adjustment in 5 U.S.C. §8146a.

 

 

Social Security Provisions

Amends §8116 by adding section (e) to allow USDOL to require claimants to consent to release of SSA earnings records to OWCP as a condition of receiving FECA benefits.

 

 

Continuation of Pay / Zone of Armed Conflict

Amends §8118 to expand continuation of pay from 45 days to up to 135 days to ease benefit delivery for employees injured in a zone of armed conflict – applies to both traumatic and occupational injuries. Also increases time to claim COP from 30 to 45 days for these employees.

 

 

Subrogation-Continuation of Pay (COP)

Amends §§8131 and 8132 to allow COP cost to be recouped from Claimant’s recovery from liable third party by DOL, credited to

employing agency that paid it.   Eliminates double recovery of wares.

 

 

 

 

Burial Expenses

Amends §8134 – Increases maximum benefit from $800 to $6,000 for burial expenses (applies to death claims after enactment) and adds language adjusting this amount yearly using the existing FECA cost of living adjustment in 5 U.S.C. §8146a.

 

 

Employees’ Compensation Fund – claim administrative expenses

Amends §8147 to allow for payment of administrative expenses from the fund to require agencies to pay their share of costs associated in administering the statute.

On Wednesday July 10, 2013 the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the Education & the Workforce Committee – the same House Committee that passed HR 2465 – held a hearing on possible FECA reform in which these same ideas and others were discussed, as was the possibility of re-introducing HR 2465 in this Congress. Many of the proposed changes listed above are long overdue.

At the hearing, other USDOL-backed changes first proposed in 2011 were also discussed.  These other changes, however, are far more controversial, leading lawmakers in 2012 to ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for its opinion about them.  These changes included reducing benefits from 3/4 or 2/3 of salary to 1/2 of salary when the employee reaches full Social Security retirement age, computing schedule award benefits for all employees on a single pay rate, eliminating “augmented” compensation (3/4 rate) for employees with dependents and paying all disability benefits at a 70% rate, etc. In three reports (GAO-13-108, GAO-13-142R, and GAO-13-143R) issued in late 2012, GAO cautioned that such changes in the law would substantially and disproportionately disadvantage certain employees and save little in overall program costs.

As of this writing, no new legislation concerning FECA reform has been introduced.

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