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This newsletter is to inform you of Senate Bill 131, and the changes that are coming to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act on January 1, 2023.
Permanent Partial Impairment
Most notably, for the first time in 22 years, the legislature is amending
AS 23.30.190 to increase permanent partial impairment (PPI) benefits. Under the
new law, you will need to multiply an injured worker’s impairment rating
percentage by $273,000, rather than by $177,000 under the current law. This
increase is effective on January 1, 2023, meaning that it will apply to
injuries sustained on or after January 1, 2023. For dates of injury before
January 1, 2023, you will continue to calculate PPI awards by multiplying the
percentage of impairment by $177,000. For injuries on or after January 1, 2023,
the PPI award will be the percentage of impairment multiplied by $273,000. The dollar
amount is the only aspect of AS 23.30.190 that is changing, the rest of the law
will remain intact.
Changes to death benefits under AS 23.30.215 will also go into effect on January 1, 2023. Under the new law, benefits for reasonable and necessary funeral costs increase to $12,000. The amount payable to surviving widows/widowers, or surviving children increases from $5,000 to $8,000. SB 131 substantially increases the maximum payable allowable to a deceased worker’s dependent father, mother, grandchildren, brothers, and sisters. After January 1, 2023, beneficiaries under AS 23.30.215(a)(4) may receive up to $150,000.00 in death benefits. This represents a $130,000 increase from the current maximum of $20,000, which was set in 1968. SB 131 will create a new subsection to AS 23.30.215, which will permit death benefits to a child beneficiary until they are 23. This is a four-year increase in benefits under the current law, and it does not preclude children of deceased workers from receiving an additional four years of benefits during post-high school education under AS 23.30.395(8) The various changes to death benefits under AS 23.30.215 only apply to deaths that occur on or after January 1, 2023.
For most insurers, the remaining changes in SB 131 will not impact you. It will amend AS 23.30.121, which only applies to firefighters. In recognition of increased cancer risks for women, the legislature is adding a presumption of compensability for breast cancer following exposure to smoke, fumes, or toxic substances. SB 131 also amends the definition of “firefighter” to clarify which firefighters who work for the state, municipal, or volunteer departments may come within the provisions of AS 23.30.121. Unlike claims for PPI or death benefits, firefighters with injuries prior to January 1, 2023, can apply the legislative changes to AS 23.30.121 going into effect that day. The amendments to AS 23.30.121 will apply to claims made after January 1, 2023.
If you have any questions regarding the impact of SB 131 and its effect on exposures and benefits owed, please reach out to any of the attorneys at our office, and we will be happy to help.