TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – New Senate President Bill Galvano is promising to revisit Florida’s workers’ compensation insurance laws, despite two decreases in rates for employers.
Galvano said the laws need to be looked at because of two state Supreme Court rulings, including one that eliminated caps on fees charged by attorneys who represent injured workers. He said there is a chance the rulings could result in rate hikes in the future.
“I don’t want to be in a situation where they spike and then we are running to fix it at that point,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters Friday. “I’d rather look at the system and make any changes that are necessary while we have the luxury of not having high rates.”
Galvano, who formally took over as president Tuesday, would not say whether he would be willing to offer proposals that would affect employers and employees, saying that is “not a decision that has been made.”
His willingness to tackle workers’ compensation insurance comes on the heels of an announcement this month by the state Office of Insurance Regulation that rates will go down an average of 13.8 percent in 2019. That follows a 9.5 percent average rate reduction this year.
While rates are being reduced, Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida, said that doesn’t mean all problems are solved for employers who must buy the coverage.
“Dropping rates doesn’t guarantee that all is well with workers’ compensation. We’re grateful that he sees that clearly,” Herrle said. “However, a good workers’ compensation reform bill is always a heavy lift, no matter which direction rates are heading. Kudos to (Galvano).”
Workers’ compensation insurance proposals are difficult to pass because of the various interest groups, including business groups, health-care providers who are paid to treat injured workers and plaintiffs’ attorneys who are sometimes hired to represent workers.
At a minimum, there is usually a divide between business groups and plaintiffs’ attorneys, many of which are represented by the Florida Justice Association.
Business groups argue that attorneys’ fees drive up costs in the workers’ compensation system, while plaintiffs’ lawyers contend they help ensure injured workers can get needed representation in disputes with insurers.
The Republican-dominated Legislature in 2003 passed a sweeping rewrite of the workers' compensation system that, among other things, tied the recovery of worker attorneys' fees to percentages of the amounts of recovered benefits. The law was tweaked in 2009 to make clear that workers' compensation judges were precluded from awarding additional hourly fees for plaintiffs' attorneys.
But in a 2016 ruling known as Castellanos v. Next Door Company, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the fee caps as unconstitutional.
Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for the Florida Justice Association, praised Galvano for agreeing to tackle workers’ compensation insurance and listed a number of issues the association is interested in pursuing, including increased choice of medical providers for injured workers. Florida has a managed-care mandate for workers’ compensation insurance, which limits the physicians who workers can see for treatment.
“Safe workplaces throughout Florida depend on state leaders like President Galvano to take a thorough, measured, and responsible examination of the workers’ compensation insurance system,” Banfill said in a statement. “As someone who has fought to accomplish common-sense, comprehensive and constitutional reforms across his tenure in state government, Senator Galvano is in an excellent position to create meaningful and enduring changes that make the safety of Floridians a principle that is coequal to workable solutions to employers.”