Governor Wolf has signed H.B. 1840, a law that will reinstate impairment ratings for injured Pennsylvania workers. The proposed law has been the subject of much controversy since before it was passed by the House earlier this year. Employers support the bill because it lowers workers’ compensation costs by raising the bar for benefits eligibility, whereas workers oppose the bill because it limits injured workers’ right to recovery for workplace injuries and illnesses.
The History of Impairment Ratings
Pennsylvania employers used to be able to request impairment evaluations for employees who were out of work for at least 104 weeks. These impairment evaluations had to be conducted by physicians who were required to follow the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides when evaluating workers’ impairments. However, in 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that such impairment rating evaluations were unconstitutional.
Impairment Rating Evaluations Ruled Unconstitutional
In Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area School District), a worker who was receiving temporary total disability payments for her knee injury was called in for an impairment rating evaluation. In accordance with the AMA Guides, the evaluating physician assigned her a ten percent impairment rating. Her employer subsequently sought to change her benefits to partial disability because the injured employee’s whole-body impairment rating was less than 50 percent (the required threshold for total disability).
The Workers’ Compensation Judge granted the employer’s modification petition and that decision was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. The Board also rejected the employee’s argument that it was unconstitutional for the General Assembly to delegate authority to the AMA to establish impairment evaluation criteria. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court remanded the case on a different issue regarding which edition of the Guides should have been applied.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on appeal. The Court pointed out that the AMA was not subject to any restraints or guidelines; it could draft any version of the Guides, however often and in any manner, it wanted to. The evaluating physician would also have no power to limit the AMA’s authority, leaving it free to wield broad and unbridled authority. Emphasizing that the General Assembly may in some cases delegate authority to a private actor, the Court held that in this case, it did so unconstitutionally.
H.B. 1840 Passed into Law
H.B. 1840 proposes that employers be able to request an impairment evaluation following an employee’s injury and that such evaluations are to be conducted by physicians who apply the most recent addition of the AMA Guides. The bill was passed by both the state House and Senate and it has now been signed into law by Governor Wolf, thereby overturning the Supreme Court’s decision.
Many Pennsylvania employers are in support of the bill, which will limit workers’ right to compensation, especially after the increased workers’ compensation costs they had to pay as a result of the Court’s ruling. However, workers should be aware that they may now be subject to impairment rating evaluations which can lead to decreased workers’ compensation.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Seek Maximum Compensation for Injured Workers
For more information on H.B. 1840 and how it may affect your workers’ compensation benefits, contact a Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorney at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Our experienced attorneys represent clients in Philadelphia and throughout the state of Pennsylvania. For a free consultation, complete our online contact form or call us at 888-PITT-LAW.
We fight for injured workers throughout Pennsylvania, including those in Berks County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County, as well as in the communities of Abington, Ambler, Ardmore, Bala Cynwyd, Bensalem, Clifton Heights, Crum Lynne, Darby, Downingtown, Doylestown, Drexel Hill, Essington, Folcroft, Glenolden, Haverford, Havertown, Holmes, Kutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion Station, Morton, Narberth, Norristown, Norwood, Philadelphia, Prospect Park, Quakertown, Reading, Roxborough, Sharon Hill, Upper Darby, West Chester and Wynnewood.