House passes bill modifying FECA

Tuesday - 11/29/2011, 8:48pm EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The House approved bipartisan legislation reforming the Federal Employees Compensation Act Tuesday evening. The bill allows physician assistants to treat federal workers for traumatic injuries, streamlines the claims process and expands benefits.

The Federal Workers' Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act" , was introduced by House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) in July and garnered a number of co-sponsors, including committee ranking George Miller (D-Calif.)

Specifically, the bill:

  • Allows physician assistants and advanced practice nurses to certify disabilities for traumatic injuries

  • Streamlines the claims process for workers who sustain an injury in a designated combat zone,

  • Allows the Labor Department to cross-check federal workers' earnings with the Social Security data,

  • Covers injuries sustained in a terrorist attack as a "war-risk hazard"

  • Provides additional support for funeral expenses (as much as $6,000) and for workers who sustain an injury that leads to facial disfigurement (providing as much as $50,000).
"The federal workers' compensation program has not been significantly updated in almost 40 years," said Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), another of the bill's co-sponsors, in a release. "As is too often the case with government programs left unchecked, waste and inefficiencies have crept into the system, leading to poor use of taxpayer resources and diminished support for those the program is intended to serve. This legislation will help ensure federal employees have access to a program that reflects the realities of today's economy and the best practices in medical care."

When the bill cleared the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in July, federal unions applauded the vote.

The provision allowing physician assistants and nurse practitioners to treat disabled federal employees is a "tremendous gain" for workers in rural areas and war zones, Collen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in July.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants noted that about 85 percent of federal workers comp cases involve treatment by a physician assistant or nurse practitioner.

However, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate. A subcommittee debated a FECA update in July that would cut benefits, in part, by automatically converting workers covered by FECA to the federal retirement system once they reach Social Security age.

The Senate proposal would also set a uniform level of compensation — 66.7 percent. The current rate is 75 percent for feds with at least one dependent and 66.7 percent for those without any dependents.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department is separately mulling a proposal to set the compensation rate at 70 percent for all feds.

The Senate FECA bill, introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been attached to the Senate's version of a Postal reform bill.

RELATED STORIES

House to vote on bill modifying FECA

Proposed workers' comp changes would cut benefits

Increases in federal workers' comp pass House committee