State News : Georgia

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2023 Legislative Session Overview 

Nathan C. Levy, Partner

Levy, Sibley, Foreman & Speir, LLC 

The Legislative session for 2023 has ended and there are only a few notable changes that we wanted to share with you. Be advised that per the normal course, these changes go into effect on July 1, 2023, and will apply to dates of accident from that date forward. Many of you might recall our newsletter from March 21, 2023, wherein we advised of possible increases in indemnity caps, a change in the language associated with dependency and the increase in the maximum recoverable by a surviving spouse with no dependents. HB 480 was passed and ultimately remained the only impactful legislation for Workers’ Compensation that emerged from the session. 

HB 480 specifically addresses: 

1. A revision to Code Section 34-9-13(e) that formerly allowed for the dependency of a surviving spouse to terminate with remarriage of upon a finding of cohabitation in a meretricious relationship with this latter language removed entirely. Replacing it will be a cessation of dependency benefits upon determination by the board of cohabitation continuously and openly in a relationship similar or akin to marriage that includes support of economic value to the Claimant Dependent. No consideration shall be given to payments made exclusively for board and lodging or to any payment for financial support for a period of less than three months. 

2. A revision to Code Section 34-9-261 increasing the statutory maximum for TTD to $800.00 per week (not less than $50.00 per week) for dates of accident on or after July 1, 2023. This is an increase from $725.00 per week. 

3. A revision to Code Section 34-9-262 increasing the statutory maximum for TPD to $533.00 per week up from $483.00 per week. 

4. A revision to Code Section 34-9-265 increasing the maximum amount paid to a surviving spouse with no dependent from $290,000.00 to $320,000.00. 

Moreover, as we stated in March, with these changes will come some new challenges related to attempts to suspend spousal dependency benefits in circumstances where there is cohabitation but not remarriage and what must be done from an accounting perspective to bear the employer’s burden. At first glance, the evidence appears to require a full forensic accounting to show a true commingling of household dollars in a manner that would be expected to appear with married couples. This new standard is a much greater hurdle to overcome than merely providing evidence that a spouse/dependent is actively living with someone else and holding themselves out as partners. One can expect an increase in litigation in this area until some judicial guidelines are established. 

Certainly, the continued increases in TTD and TPD should come with little surprise as employers and insurers are becoming very familiar with cap increases going into effect every July 1.  

From a Board Rule perspective, there are several modifications that also go into effect on July 1st. The below changes apply to all claims, regardless of the date of accident. 

·     Board Rule 200.2 clarifies the specific Certifications and Licenses that must be maintained in order to maintain status with the Board as a “Qualified Case Manager”. The Board rule does clarify that prior to initially contacting a treating physician, a qualified medical case manager working without consent of the employee (or counsel) must provide all parties with written notice of being retained by the employer/insurer. Qualified medical case managers must also provide copies of all written documents received from the treating physician to all parties and attorneys. 

·     Board Rule 100(i) and 102 (E)(1) expand professional conduct to include a general prohibition by any person in any claim to exhibit unprofessional, discourteous, or disruptive conduct and that certainly extends to the courtroom. 

·     Board Rule 203(e) also increases the rate of mileage from .40 to .45 cents per mile, and, finally, 

·     Board Rule 203 in relation to Peer Reviews of medical billing practices, gives the decision of the “peer review organization” the final say in ordering a lowering or increasing of any bill submitted for review and requires/allows the employer to remit payment or take credit based upon that outcome.  

As you can see, the session did bring about the expected changes and with very little surprise. In the end, that is the path that Georgia’s employers and insurers certainly prefer. As always, if you have any questions regarding these issues or would like clarification on any point, do not hesitate to contact us.