By Brian Allen, Vice President of Government Affairs, Mitchell
As we reach the summer solstice, we also reach the point in the year most legislatures have completed their business, and those still in session are looking at their summer recess time. For those of us in the government affairs business, it is a time to assess the bills that made it through the process, take a deep breath and get ready to dive into the sessions that are still going when the recess ends.
COVID-19 Creates Legislative Changes
Without question, the legislative sessions this year were dominated by issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers wrestled with how to spend an enormous amount of federal money intended to help states bounce back from the devastating economic impact of the pandemic and to help immunize their populace to slow the spread of the virus and minimize future impacts.
From a workers’ compensation perspective, COVID-related issues ranged from allowing businesses to require vaccines, liability exemptions, privacy concerns related to the vaccine and whether or not certain employee classes or industries should be eligible for a presumption if a worker contracts the virus.
For example, Arkansas passed HB1488, extending a COVID presumption to essential workers. Indiana passed SB232 related to COVID exposure for emergency and public safety personnel. Oregon passed HB2915 creating an infectious disease presumption for firefighters and Tennessee passed SB995 creating an infectious disease presumption for emergency rescue workers. Washington enacted SB5115 creating a COVID presumption for frontline workers and SB5190 creating the same presumption for health care workers. More than a dozen other states considered COVID presumption bills that did not pass.
Marijuana Sparks Legislation
Another hot topic with workers’ compensation implications is the legalization of marijuana, for both medicinal and recreational use. The pandemic had an adverse effect on the tax revenue collected by states. Much of that revenue is tied to economic activity and the lockdowns related to the pandemic significantly affected that activity; consequently, states started seeing deficits in their budgets. Marijuana was one business that seemed to be pandemic-proof. The Illinois recreational marijuana industry in its first year of operation during the pandemic raked in over $650 million in revenue and generated over $100 million in tax revenue for the state. Those results attracted the attention of many state policymakers around the country looking for new revenue sources to plug budget holes.
- Alabama (SB46) and Georgia (SB195) passed bills allowing for the use of medical marijuana.
- Texas (HB1535) and Minnesota (HF2128) expanded the conditions for the use of medical marijuana.
- Tennessee passed SB118, creating a commission to study the creation of a medical cannabis program.
- New York (S854), Virginia (SB1406), and New Mexico (HB2) enacted legislation to legalize adult recreational use of cannabis.
- New Jersey (S3454) and Montana (HB701) both passed laws to build the framework for their recreational marijuana laws as passed by voters in 2020.
- During a special legislative session on June 17, 2021, the Connecticut legislature passed SB1201, allowing for persons to grow and possess up to 5 oz. of marijuana for recreational use. Formal retail sales will begin in May of 2022.
A few states also considered laws related to requiring workers’ compensation insurers and auto insurers to reimburse injured workers who are using medical marijuana where it is deemed to be medically necessary. New York is considering a bill (AB242) that would require employers and workers’ compensation insurers to reimburse for medical marijuana. New Jersey is considering a couple of bills (A1708, S3406) that would require insurers to reimburse for workers’ compensation and auto claims. The Kansas legislature introduced a handful of bills related to medical marijuana. One of the bills exempted workers’ compensation from coverage and another bill would have required coverage for workers’ compensation claims. Neither bill passed.
States Address Opioid Overdose Issues
One of the sad consequences of the pandemic was a renewed surge in opioid overdose deaths. Preliminary numbers from the CDC indicate that in the 12-month period from October 2019 through September 2020, there were more than 87,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, largely driven by illicit opioids. That number represents a new record number of deaths for any previous 12-month period.
A couple of legislatures have responded by placing limits on the prescribing of opioids for acute pain. North Dakota passed HB1139, limiting opioids to a 7-day supply for acute pain. Lawmakers in Utah approved HB15, reducing the days’ supply of opioids, post-surgery from 30 to 5 days. Rhode Island enacted SB384, dealing with treatment of chronic, intractable pain.
A number of states passed laws requiring the co-prescribing of an opioid antagonist to make the life-saving drug more readily available to people at risk for an opioid overdose, including Arkansas (SB505), New Jersey (SB2323), South Carolina (SB571), and Washington (SB5195). Alaska passed SB70 to study the impact opioid overdose drug distribution.
Care Considerations Continue
State legislatures also considered bills related to direction of care in the workers’ compensation system and how managed care networks should operate. While most of those bills did not pass, states continue to evaluate how care is delivered in their workers’ compensation systems. Nevada did pass SB289, creating some new flexibility for managed care networks. Texas passed HB1753, requiring a study on the performance of networks on their workers’ compensation system.
Even though activity on the legislative front has slowed for the summer, many of these issues are still being discussed and worked on behind the scenes. It is important for industry leaders to stay engaged with legislators across the country and keep them informed on how the system is working in their respective states. Legislators need to hear from their constituents to understand the real needs in the workers’ compensation system.
About Brian Allen
Brian Allen is a nationally recognized policy expert for workers’ compensation and insurance issues across the country. Allen currently serves as Vice President of Government Affairs for Mitchell’s Pharmacy Solutions team. In this role, Allen provides clients with insight into new legislation and regulations in pharmacy solutions and workers’ compensation.
Allen frequently authors articles and blogs on relevant issues and is a regular source to reporters working with the various trade journals. Allen is also a frequent speaker and panelist at several conferences and events around the country, including the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA), WCI360, the National Drug Abuse Summit, National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference (NWCDC), and many state and regional workers’ compensation conferences. He is also a member of the Medical Issues Committee for the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC).
Allen has lobbied nationally for workers’ compensation issues for more than 16 years and has more than 25 years of political experience. Allen is a former elected member of the Utah House of Representatives. He has been instrumental in the development of drug formularies around the country including Texas, California, Tennessee, Montana and Kentucky. He was also a contributor to the model drug formulary legislation adopted by the National Council of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) in December 2019. Allen is a leading voice on opioid prescribing, physician dispensing and the potential impacts of medical marijuana on the workers’ compensation system.
Allen has over 30 years of experience in the insurance industry as a licensed agent and agency manager for multi-line insurance agencies. Allen is currently licensed and maintaining a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) designation.
About Mitchell International
Headquartered in San Diego, Calif., Mitchell International, Inc. delivers smart technology solutions and services to the auto insurance, collision repair, disability and workers’ compensation markets. Through deep industry expertise, connections throughout the insurance ecosystem and advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, extended reality and cloud-based solutions, Mitchell enables its customers and clients to succeed in today’s ever-changing environment. Each month, Mitchell processes tens of millions of transactions for more than 300 insurance providers, 20,000 collision repair facilities and 70,000 pharmacies. Its comprehensive solution and service portfolio empowers clients to restore lives after a challenging event.
Mitchell, Genex and Coventry have recently aligned their joint industry expertise and advanced technology solutions into a combined organization of more than 6,000 associates committed to simplifying and optimizing property, casualty and disability claims processes and services.
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