Here is the big one – for injuries on-the-job covered under Georgia workers’ compensation and occurring July 1st or after, lifetime medical is no longer available, unless the injury is catastrophic. For most injuries, medical care will only have to be provided by the employer and their insurer for 400 weeks from the date of injury (This is slightly less than eight years). This is a major change that will impact people who have suffered back, neck and other spinal injuries, people suffering from chronic pain, people who need pain management, and people who need to have orthopedic hardware removed or joint replacements redone years after the original surgery. For catastrophic injuries, however, the employer/insurer must continue to provide such medical treatments as “reasonably required and appear likely to effect a cure, give relief, or restore the employee to suitable employment,” without any time limitations, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-200.
There are only two changes in the law coming up that will actually benefit working people. One is an incremental change in the maximum workers’ compensation rate – it will increase from $500/week to $525/week for accidents occurring July 1st or after. The maximum temporary partial disability rate will also incrementally increase from $334/week to $350/week. Georgia’s maximum workers’ compensation rate was already low so this change does little to improve an abysmally inadequate benefit structure. The other change is a requirement that the insurer reimburse employees for medical travel expense (mileage) within 15 days after receipt of the documentation instead of 30 days.
When an employee returns to work with restrictions, he or she has been given a grace period of 15 days to try the job and see if he or she can actually do the job, to see if it is really light duty, and to see if it is really what it was represented to be, O.C.G.A. § 34-9-264. The new law amended this Code section to require that the employee try the light duty job for at least eight cumulative hours or one scheduled workday, whichever is greater, before taking advantage of the 15 day grace period. The 15 day grace period requires disability benefits to be immediately reinstated if the employee is unable to perform the job for more than 15 days. So he or she must try the job for at least eight cumulative hours or one scheduled workday or he/she will not entitled to automatic reinstatement of TTD benefits. This is only a minor procedural change, and our law firm has always encouraged clients to try a light duty job for several days and to seek medical advice before walking away from a light duty job.
To read the entire law, as passed by the Georgia legislature, see HB154.