Extension of workers' comp 'presumptions' to nurses could cost hospitals up to $500 million annually

Nurses in California are lobbying for passage of a bill that would extend workers' compensation benefits to nurses and other hospital workers who suffer certain infectious diseases or back and neck injuries on the job, but it could end up costing hospitals between $250 million and $500 million per year. 

The bill's author, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, said her measure would level the playing field and provide the same "rebuttable presumptions" to nurses that peace officers and firefighters currently enjoy. Supporter Kathryn Donahue, an intensive care nurse who was turned down for workers' compensation after contracting an infection while working, said it's "morally wrong" that nurses even have to fight for such coverage.

California's workers' comp insurance system provides medical care, death benefits and compensates for temporary or permanent disability for employees who sustain injuries on the job. Peace officers and firefighters -- traditionally male-dominated professions, Skinner pointed out -- have had a "rebuttable presumption" under state law that their heart trouble, pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, blood-borne infectious diseases, or various other illness or injuries stemmed from their job, the Sacramento Bee reports.

"This is a game-changer," said the California Chamber of Commerce's Thomas Vu. He opposes the measure and says it could prompt other private-sector workers to likewise demand such benefits.

So far, the only non-public employees who were allowed to claim workers' compensation under the "rebuttable presumption" were privately contracted firefighters and lifeguards. The presumption for the latter only applies for skin cancer.

Last year, a similar bill was stalled once it reached the Assembly Appropriations Committee phase, but the Assembly has both a new speaker and a new chairman. 

To learn more:
- read this Sacramento Bee article
- check out this California Healthline piece
- here's AB 1994