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The Division is once again bypassing public discourse in its latest effort at ad hoc rule-making. During the DWC’s August Workers’ Compensation seminar in Austin, Benefit Review Officers were instructed that an insurance carrier representative in a Benefit Review Conference must do more than merely state the conditions thus far accepted by their clients, he or she will be required to sign a Form DWC024 agreement to that effect. In other words, a party’s assurance that a given set of conditions is not in dispute will no longer suffice; a formal and legally-binding agreement must be entered into instead.
This new policy has yet to be circulated in writing to system participants for comment or questions, so much of what is known of it has been obtained anecdotally. According to those we have spoken with, the Benefit Review Officer will ask the parties to sign a DWC024 accepting as compensable any conditions listed as such in a PLN-11 or DWC032 completed by the Carrier. If the Carrier representative will not agree, he or she may be subject to a violation referral, and the heretofore undisputed conditions would then become part of an extent of injury issue.
The goal of having the parties enter into such an agreement is ostensibly to minimize the number of previously accepted conditions that suddenly become disputed ones. The Division has been silent as to why this policy does not create the very problem it was intended to solve.
The purported authority for this rule change is Section 415.002(a), which states that “[a]n insurance carrier or its representative commits an administrative violation if that person: (9) attends a dispute resolution proceeding within the division without complete authority or fails to exercise authority to effectuate agreement or settlement.” Thus far presiding officers have not been swayed by protestations that PLN-11’s and DWC032’s are not legally-binding documents, that stipulated conditions can simply be memorialized in a Benefit Review Officer’s Report, or that accepted injuries may change as the medical evidence develops.
In the meantime, Carrier representatives are faced with a difficult choice: either sign an agreement that is perhaps not in their clients’ best interests, or subject themselves to potential violation referrals if they refuse.
Copyright 2019, Stone Loughlin & Swanson, LLP