New legislation from Governor Walker aims to improve workers' compensation in Alaska

Gov. Bill Walker, of Alaska, prepares for his State of the State address
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Changes could be coming to the way workers’ compensation programs function for Alaska workers and for Alaska employers.

The new legislation presented Wednesday by Governor Bill Walker could overall improve the workers’ comp system, according to a statement released by the governor.

The press release states that the legislation aims to “streamline Alaska’s workers’ compensation program while protecting workers’ rights.”

Walker says the goal of workers’ compensation in general is to help injured Alaskans get back to work. Owing to this, the changes coming will affect both employers and employees.

Six major changes are outlined in the new piece of legislation.

1. What?
Expediting dispute resolutions to workers’ compensation claims.
How?
Requiring a hearing shortly after a claim is filed instead of waiting for the employee to request a hearing.

2. What?
Speeding up medical care delivery so workers aren’t left injured without treatment.
How?
Require employers to approve or deny medical treatment after the provider requests it.

3. What?
Going further to prevent fraud within the system.
How?
Requiring employees to more thoroughly report all work and benefits, and requiring employers to remove “artificially low” premiums.

4. What?
“Substantive changes” to penalties against employers.
How?
Increasing and expand penalties by setting a “maximum penalty” of three times the premium.

5. What?
Save money on admin expensenses.
How?
Allow employers to pay benefits electronically, and phases out the secondary injury fund.

6. What?
Provide “adequate” funding for worker’s comp administrative costs.
How?
Gives a larger share of annual fee money to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

As far as the need for change, in the three-page proposal penned by Walker, he highlights the need for a more efficient workers’ comp system, something the governor sees as long overdue.

“The system has not been significantly reformed in more than 10 years,” Walker writes.

Whether these changes will succeed in helping either employees or employers remains to be seen.