Hawaii's Workers' Compensation is currently undergoing reform in order to make it more accessible and more responsible to the workers and employers of the State. It is administered by the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The push for reform is due in part to the high premium costs paid by Hawaii employers for workers compensation. At $3.73 per $100 in wages in 2003, Hawaii's rates are the third highest in the nation.
In addition to high rates, compared to other states, Hawaii's statistics in the early years of the millennium were poor. Workers showed a higher rate of injuries and stayed off the job longer than workers in other states. Another poor showing was the fact that there were no managed care options to treat injuries suffered on the job. Legislative reform for the workers compensation system is in progress, but much remains to be done.
Every effort is made to address the issues that are causing the most dissatisfaction. At present, the hearing process has been revamped to have a more consistent set of rulings. The concept is to maintain a more relaxed process while still apply rules and statutes uniformly and consistently. At the same time, efforts are being made to made the entire process more efficient so that claims can be processed more quickly. In addition, if there are disputes over claims that have medical treatment deemed to be emergency or critical in operation the hearings will be fast tracked, in order to provide approved reimbursements more quickly.
Hawaii's original workers compensation statutes date back to 1915, and is compulsory for employers. Employers can provide the benefits through a private insurance carrier, competitive state fund or by becoming self-insured. Employers may not waive the responsibility. Recently, Hawaii entered into agreement with collective bargaining units to provide an alternate form of workers compensation in order to lower costs to employers in unionized industries. This has resulted in a less adversarial role and in faster claims processing for the injured workers. The added benefit is lower premiums for employers.
Another prime factor in the reform initiative being implemented in Hawaii is changing the public perception of the Health and Safety administrative unit to form positive approaches to lower accident rate statistics. Offering incentives for lowered accident rate, and being perceived as a source of help and resources has improved the day-to-day working relationships between employers and the state agency personnel.
An updated fee schedule for medical service providers to make payments consistent with Medicare Par rates has been implemented to prevent the loss of qualified medical personnel to provide service due to low reimbursement rates.
A major updating of forms used in reporting and claims processing has been implemented with input from providers and state staff. Clear standards on the setting of attorney fees involved in workers compensation disputes means that there is a more objective approach to fee approvals.
Implementation of increased reliance of online filing for various workers compensation forms and claims documents is intended to speed up not only the claims process, but also the reporting process as well. Essentially, real time tracking of claims will be possible, thus providing greater reliability, efficiency and faster processing for the payment of benefits.
At least one issue remains to be discussed with the legislators and that is the increasing refusal of physicians and other medical personnel to treat employees for work related accidents or injuries. If employers cannot find physicians to treat employees who have been injured at the prices they can afford, the loss of great quality physicians could become a hemorrhage.
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