Employer, Health Care Groups Clash over Workers’ Compensation

Powerful employer and health care groups are clashing over a proposed workers’ compensation bill that would set fees for medical care in the state program.

The Worker’s Compensation Employers Coalition, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and more than 40 other groups, says workers’ comp medical costs are going up, and care costs much more for work injury patients than people covered by regular health insurance.

Employers are “seeing that they’re paying more, and they just don’t quite understand why,” Chris Reader, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s director of health and human resources policy, said Tuesday at a Wisconsin Health News panel debating the bill expected to be introduced in the Legislature soon.

Mark Grapentine, the Wisconsin Medical Society’s senior vice president of government relations, said overall workers’ comp claims in Wisconsin run about the same as the national average, in part because workers use fewer medical services and return to their jobs three weeks shorter than average.

Although the vast majority of states use fee schedules, the proposal in Wisconsin is “a solution in search of a problem,” Grapentine said.

In a decades-old process, the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, which has members from labor and management, hash out proposed changes to the program in a bill each two-year legislative session.

The group incorporated the fee schedule again into its proposed 2017-19 bill, which also calls for curbing opioid use and other changes. The fee schedule would set rates for medical care at 2.5 percent higher than the average negotiated prices for regular health insurance plans.