The House Business and Labor committee is scheduled to hearing HB 299 on January 30, 2015 at 8:30 a.m. in Room 172 of the Capitol.
HB 299 is, on its face, a fairly innocuous bill that inserts some additional language regarding the duties of the Department of Labor and Industry to provide a generic notification of possible prosecution for fraudulently trying to access workers' compensation benefits. It also requires insurers to notify employers of claim determinations.
However, what SB 299 fails to do is recognize that fraud is not confined to the claimants. Perhaps some balanced language requiring employers to participate in investigations, provide necessary information as needed should be considered.
While claimant fraud is frequently in the headlines, the big money and systematic fraud is occurring on the other side of the fence. In recent years, the Attorney General's office has successfully prosecuted a contractor (Jared Langley) committing fraud in excess of $200,000 against the Montana State Fund. More recently, Billings businessman Christopher Blount and his Black Gold Energy Services made statewide headlines when he was charged with 293 counts of failing to comply with the Workers' Compensation Act and obtain coverage for his Montana employees.
That's not a typo - 293....2.....9....3. Two hundred and ninety-three.
Sadly, such cases don't reflect the day to day obstacles that employers throw up trying to mislead adjusters, manipulate physicians or otherwise try to circumvent the employer obligations under the Act. Claimants engaged in such behavior are labeled malingerers while the Legislature apparently is unconcerned with similarly dishonest conduct by employers.
The point is that yes...claimant fraud exists and should be addressed. Still, the Legislature shouldn't pretend employer fraud doesn't occur and should take care that the a balanced approach to fraud prevention is promoted. In this regard, HB 299 is lazy lip service to fraud issues that cost the entire system including claimants.