Wyoming Seeks Reform of Workers' Compensation Laws to Cover Mental Injuries

The coverage under many workers' compensation programs across the United States is a subject of much debate and scrutiny for simple reasons: personal injury victims want to receive as much money as possible to match the astronomical costs of medical care, and companies want to limit their liability and payouts as much as possible in order to keep their business prosperous or even surviving, in some cases.

Recent news from Wyoming over extensions considered to that state's workers' compensation laws paint a positive picture for workers involved in work-related accidents in that state.

The state legislature will soon consider whether or not to pass this legislation in a chamber vote after it makes its way through the Select Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, though the early reports are that lawmakers generally agree to the bill's broad concerns. Any disputes will likely arise over refining details contained in the bill.

The bill contains two components, each of which is designed to add to or reform the legal provisions for mental injuries sustained on the job. Wyoming is like most states in that its current workers' compensation laws require coverage for a mental injury to be directly linked to a physical injury.

The first component of the bill would eliminate that requirement, extending coverage potentially to many more victims of personal injuries that are more difficult to diagnose and treat.

Of course, using insurance to cover mental injuries always raises a dilemma: the same injuries that are most difficult to diagnose and treat are also those that can be the most damaging to the individual, facts that are not unrelated in many cases.

To ensure that the provision would not be misused, the draft of the bill contains specific restrictions on coverage designed to curb potential loopholes: a mental injury "is not covered if it is the result of disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, layoff, demotion, termination or any similar action taken in good faith by the employer."

A second component of the bill is under more discussion, but would reform the current provision of a maximum six-month period of treatment. While some support extension of this period, many committee members supported eliminating the provision describing the specific period of treatment, believing instead that determination of treatment should be left to licensed mental health professionals.

However, despite this positive foundation of general agreement among committee members, legislators face some tough questions ahead.

For example, physical personal injuries covered under workers' compensation laws must be assigned a rating in order to determine eligibility and coverage, but creating a similar mental injury rating system would be next to impossible, according to some.

And, of course, funds and logistics are always a bugbear.

Officials at the Wyoming state Workers' Compensation Division complain that expanding coverage in the program would increase the workload of a department that is already understaffed. They are currently making a projection of increased costs associated with expanding mental injury coverage and will make their report to the committee.

However, at this early stage, the bill appears to have all the underpinnings of a successful piece of legislation, and one can only hope that the good progress made so far on the bill will not be hampered as the bill advances through the legislature.

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