Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Disability Retirement Reform

Yesterday we unanimously approved amended Bill 37-08 that reforms the County’s Disability Retirement Law. We fully responded to all the issues the Inspector General raised in his report last September.

The bill was based on the tentative agreements negotiated by representatives of the County Executive and the Fraternal Order of Police. It makes reforms primarily focused on accountability--strengthening the Disability Review Panel and requiring independent medical examinations and annual re-checks for employees who retire on disability. I am confident that this will put to rest the concerns about the potential for fraud and abuse that the IG raised.

Although we discussed changing the level of benefits by implementing a two-tiered system, we took no action on it mainly because this particular issue always had been addressed through collective bargaining. The Council never has legislated the outcome of negotiations, and now isn’t the time to start. Most importantly, there was no way to guarantee that proposed changes actually would save the taxpayers any money.

Nor was there was any evidence to show that this was necessarily the only way to approach the issue of varying levels of police disability. In any event, we got the commitment from our negotiating team that they will take up this issue in their next set of negotiations with the police.

The major provisions of the bill we approved include the following:

  • Increasing the independence of the Disability Review Panel by ensuring that a doctor appointed to the panel cannot be vetoed by an employee organization, as is currently allowed
  • Improving medical expertise with regard to disability claim review by requiring that all four members (an increase from the current three members) of the Disability Review Panel be board certified in occupational medicine or have at least 10 years of experience practicing occupational medicine
  • Requiring an independent medical examination of each disability applicant unless the nature and severity of the injury render it unnecessary
  • Strengthening review of existing disability retirements by requiring an annual medical exam or a certificate from a medical doctor. This would verify a continuing disability for the first five years after retirement and every three years after that until age 55 for public safety employees. The Disability Review Panel may require the member to submit to an independent medical exam.
  • Requiring panel decisions to be made by at least three doctors (instead of two)
  • Reducing lump sum retroactive disability benefits by the amount of workers’ compensation benefits received by a police officer
  • Requiring applicants to report a claimed injury within one year of the time the applicant knew or should have known that the injury was disabling
  • Requiring applicants to file for benefits within one year after separation from county service or by July 1, 2010, whichever is later, and, for police officers, within five years of the accident causing the impairment or by July 1, 2014, whichever is later, unless the police officer is working in a chronic incapacity position
  • Reducing the County’s payment by the amount of disability payments made by another employer for the same injury, except for Social Security disability benefits
  • Reducing the County’s payment by the amount of outside earnings received by a former police officer who accepts employment as a sworn law enforcement officer with another government agency
Call or e-mail me if you have any questions.

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