But for those with conditions not considered permanent, “temporary benefits should terminate,” the agency said in a statement.
In July, D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), chair of the council’s Committee on Government Operations, introduced two bills to address what advocates say are inequities in workers’ compensation for the city’s public employees, many of whom are people of color.
One bill would provide permanent disability payments for injured city workers. Though the Office of Risk Management, which runs the city’s workers’ compensation program, says injured workers can access long-term benefits, advocates say access has been eroded by legislative and regulatory changes in the past decade.
Another bill would eliminate discrepancies in the way public and private workers are treated. City employees face restrictions on workers’ compensation that those in the private sector do not, including the 500-week cap and the need to see Risk Management-approved physicians to verify health statuses.
“It is apparent that the city’s workers’ compensation needs reform,” Todd said at Friday’s hearing. “This is the first step.”
Laurie Posner testified Friday that she was a paramedic in the city before injuries on the job sidelined her in the 1990s. Earlier this year, she received notice that her workers’ compensation benefits would be terminated in 2021 after a Risk Management-backed doctor said she was no longer disabled, which she said contradicted her personal physician. Had she worked for a private company, she said, her benefits would be secure.
“I would love to go back as a medic,” she said. “That was my dream. But my doctor said I’m unable to.”
Steven H. Kaminski, an attorney on the board of governors of the Trial Lawyers Association of Washington, D.C., said Risk Management faces a “conflict of interest,” adjudicating workers’s claims while also administrating them.
“It is almost a trap where it’s set up for failure,” he said.
Jed Ross, director of the Office of Risk Management, said at the hearing that he was “testifying to voice the administration’s strong opposition to this bill.”
Ross said private contractors who ran the city’s public workers’ compensation system before 2018 were inefficient, often leaving claims unresolved for weeks or months. Though he said he was open to negotiating a different arrangement for permanently disabled workers, he said the proposed legislation didn’t provide a clear standard for benefits entitlement or allow for advances in medical technology that would help injured people return to work.
“It is with great surprise that I find myself here today testifying [on a bill] . . . that would negate these substantial gains and the significant investment in District capital and operational resources it has taken to achieve them,” he said.
A date has not yet been set for the committee vote on the bills.