The state of Texas is about to usher in some significant changes to its workers’ compensation laws. The statutes significantly impact first responders, including firefighters and peace officers, who will have broader protections under the new rules. Other changes include expansion of the role of advanced practice nurses and clarification of the rules around injured workers who receive care at federal medical treatment facilities.
First Responders Win Big
The new laws will have the greatest impact on first responders who suffer job-related illnesses. Four separate statutes have been adopted that address the treatment of firefighters and peace officers who develop work-related illnesses, including cancer and post-traumatic stress.
House Bill 2143: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Eligibility for First Responders
House Bill 2143 clarifies that post-traumatic stress disorder is a compensable injury for first responders whether the illness was caused by a single traumatic event or multiple traumatic events. The law heretofore required firefighters and peace officers to prove that their symptoms were related to a single critical event. Under the new statute, first responders may claim workers comp benefits if they prove by a preponderance of the evidence that cumulative trauma substantially contributed to their PTSD.
The new law goes into effect Sept. 1, 2019, and will apply only to injuries reported after that date.
House Bill 1582: Peace Officer Presumptions
HB 1582 expands the presumption that exposure to certain communicable diseases is an occupational hazard for first responders to include peace officers, a broad category of public employees defined under Section 615.003(1)(A), Government Code. The expansion includes but is not limited to:
- Jailers and corrections officers
- Security guards
- Parole officers
- Probation officers
- Volunteer firefighters and EMS volunteers
- Security guards at any private colleges and junior college in the state
The bill entitles peace officers to preventive immunization against any disease they may be exposed to while at work (e.g. smallpox, measles, influenza) and includes communicable diseases, heart attacks and strokes as compensable injuries under workers’ comp.
House Bill 2503: First Responder Death Benefits
HB 2503 extends the provision of lifetime death benefits to remarried spouses of first responders killed on the job to include peace officers (as defined above.)
The bill goes into effect on Sept. 1, 2019, and will apply only to peace officers whose deaths occur on or after that date.
Senate Bill 2551: Firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician Cancer Presumption
Perhaps the most significant win for first responders, SB 2551 changes the standard for determining if a firefighter’s cancer is job-related while simultaneously raising the bar for municipalities who dispute their cancer-related claims. Prior to the passage of SB 2551 in May of this year, firefighters were required to prove that their cancer was one of a small subset of cancers that the International Agency for Research on Cancer had determined to be the result of exposure to heat, smoke, radiation or suspected carcinogen. The new statute replaces that requirement with a list of 11 cancers that are compensable under workers’ comp, including those that originate in the
- Kidneys (renal cell carcinoma)
The list also includes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, malignant melanoma, and multiple myeloma.
In addition to expanding the types of cancers compensable under Texas workers’ comp, the new law limits the circumstances under which municipalities can rebut a claim. Under the old statute, a firefighter’s claim could be rebutted with evidence that another risk factor (e.g. a family history of cancer; a history of smoking) may have caused the disease. Under the new law, the rebuttal must provide evidence that another risk factor was a “substantial factor” in causing the disease “without which the disease or illness would not have occurred.”
The law also confirms that political subdivisions ( e.g. cities, towns, municipalities) in Texas do not have sovereign immunity from complying with the law, nor are they exempt from enforcement actions and administrative penalties. It also adds liability for the firefighter’s legal fees.
The new statute applies to claims filed on or after June 10, 2019, and will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Treatment at Federal Medical Treatment Facilities
In another change to Texas worker’s comp rules, Senate Bill 935 clarifies that care provided to an injured worker at a federal medical treatment facility is exempt from some statutory requirements. Specifically, the bill requires insurers to pay the amount billed by federal medical facilities and outlines a requirement for the DWC to adopt rules to resolve medical billing disputes in which injured workers have been “balance-billed.”
The new law applies to care provided at federal medical treatment facilities on or after Jan. 1, 2020.
Other legislative changes include the removal of certain obsolete rules and a provision that allows advance practice nurses to complete a DWC Status Report (Form 073) regarding an injured employee’s ability to return to work.
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