Connecticut state lawmakers are expected to discuss legislation that could expand workers compensation benefits and maybe increase insurers' costs to provide psychiatric or psychological care to first-responders and possibly other professionals in the wake of the Newtown school shootings.
The Dec. 14 attack at an elementary school that left 26 elementary school employees and students dead, has lawmakers and other stakeholders returning to the question of how to craft placeholder legislation offered by Democratic Rep. Stephen Dargan. Dargan chairs the House Public Safety Committee and is a member of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee. The bill is still in its infancy, he said in a written statement. "We do not have language at this time. However, I am sure there will be several bills proposed on this topic during the 2013 session."
John Mastropietro, chairman of the state Workers Compensation Council, said he expects talks to begin when the General Assembly returns to work next week and that a fully developed bill should be offered a few weeks later. He said Dargan's bill could either change existing law broadly or become specialty legislation that deals only with the shootings. Mastropietro said there have been telephone discussions with various stakeholders about how to address legislation, but specifics remain to be determined. Dargan would not commit as to the scope of the bill. "The hope is to ensure that those affected in such circumstances have the proper support they need," he wrote. "As discussions continue, we will hear the proposal and begin to form more substantial legislation moving forward."
Mastropietro said the Newtown shootings resulted in consideration of Dargan's legislation that would expand psychiatric or psychological care for first responders. Currently, there are limitations under which they can currently receive mental health benefits. For instance, he said the police arriving on the scene in Newtown likely would not qualify for such care. He said current statutes limit treatment to officers who suffer mental or emotional impact arising from using deadly force in the line of duty. Firefighters would not qualify for treatment after Newtown because they did not witness the death of another firefighter in the line of duty. Others present during the school shootings, such as the school teachers, secretaries and custodians, currently have no recourse for treatment under workers compensation and expanding treatment to those groups could be discussed, he said.
Insurers' will be watching the bills development to see what increases in costs may result, Mastropietro said. There will be a cost factor involved, he said. How much may rest on how incidents to be covered are defined.
But Mastropietro said prior efforts to extend workers compensation have been dashed by a combination of the uncertain cost of psychiatric or psychological treatment, as well as efforts to expand the bills' scope to include professions not originally part of the legislation. Success of any workers' compensation expansion bill this session could come down to reaching agreement in these areas. There [has been] this recognition and desire to help, but it becomes a mushrooming kind of thing that ends up having a fiscal note and dies by the wayside, he said. Attempts to reach police and firefighter associations for comment were unsuccessful.
The top five writers of workers compensation insurance in Connecticut in 2011 were Hartford Insurance Group, with a 17.63% market share; Liberty Mutual Insurance Cos., with a 14.9% share; Travelers Group, with 12.32%; American International Group Inc., with 9.01%; and Zurich Financial Services NA Group, with 4.69%.