The beginning of the year usually sees rule and benefit changes in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. 2019 will be no different. The maximum rate for disability benefits will increase to $855 to $831. Mileage reimbursement for medical visits and vocational rehabilitation will increase to $.58 per mile from $.545 per mile.
While annual increases in the maximum benefit rate are routine in Nebraska, it is not routine in all states. The annual increase in the maximum benefit rate ensures that compensation stays adequate from both a practical and constitutional perspective.
The minimum benefit remains unchanged at $49.00 per week. That amount has not changed since 1973. That low amount can particularly harm a worker who suffers a serious injury on a second job or part-time job — like a holiday job — if the work injury keeps them from doing a full-time job.
The mileage rate increase might also seem humdrum, but it is common for injured workers in Nebraska to travel relatively long distances to seek care from specialists. An increase in mileage reimbursement of $.035 per mile means another $7 for injured worker who makes a 200-mile roundtrip for medical treatment which is not uncommon in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court also approved various procedural changes at their meeting on December 20th.
Rule 2 – Rule 2 regulates filing in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. Changes to the filing rules mandate the use of registration for the E-File system through Nebraska.gov. Additionally, the court will formally allow pleadings filed by 11:59:59 p.m. central time to be deemed to be filed that day rather than waiting for formal business hours to get a document file stamped. Appeals can now also be filed electronically.
Rule 47 – The change to Rule 47 provides that more detailed information about third-party cases be provided to the court in settlements that require court approval. The court doesn’t have jurisdiction to determine third-party liability but it does have some interest in repayment or subrogation interests under the theory that subrogation interests ensure that medical providers are adequately paid. Case law also provides that protection of a employer/insurers subrogation interest effectuates the beneficent purpose of the act.
Rule 50 – The court ended its prohibition of doctors referring patients to clinics where they have an ownership interest. This rule changes allows for doctors to refer to physican-owned specialty hospitals. These hospitals can perfrom procedures at a lower cost, but the ACA prohibited such facilites from taking Medicare and Medicaid.
The court also adopted a new fee schedule dictating how providers are paid for treating work injuries. You can read about here as to why that is significant here. The court also rejected a change to NWCC Rule 10 prompted by a recent Nebraska Supreme Court decision that you can read about here.