Penser North America welcomes a review of the workers’ compensation program at Hanford, the Department of Energy contractor said in a statement Thursday.
Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray requested the investigation on Wednesday, saying they had heard troubling allegations of workers’ compensation claims being dismissed on arbitrary grounds and actions taken to discredit claims.
They asked that the investigation by the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General cover the treatment of thousands of workers and their claims since Penser became the claims administrator in 2009.
The DOE is self-insured for workers’ compensation at Hanford and contracts with Penser for third-party administration of workers’ claims. Hanford has almost 9,200 workers this year.
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We are confident that a review of the claims process and procedures that Penser works through will help clarify and provide an accurate representation of the facts.
Penser North America statement
Penser said it has not used unfair tactics to deny claims, and that’s supported by the lack of similar allegations for its work for other employers. The Lacey-based company has a long history of serving as a third-party administrator for several employers.
“We are confident that a review of the claims process and procedures that Penser works through will help clarify and provide an accurate representation of the facts,” Penser said.
It pointed out that any decision to deny a claim would be made by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, not Penser.
All employers in Washington, including those who are self insured, are governed by the same workers’ compensation laws, Penser said.
The state Department of Labor and Industries provides oversight, including multiple levels of state adjudicators. The adjudicators direct action on claims and issue orders on compensation, resolve protests and promote the availability of an ombudsman office for workers at self-insured organizations, Penser said.
For any real change to occur regarding the Washington state workers’ compensation claim process, our state Legislature must make those changes.
Penser North America statement
“Having an on-the-job injury or developing an on-the-job illness is a very stressful and emotional life event, which can be made more difficult due to the complexities of the Washington state workers’ compensation system,” the company said.
Any significant change to the state’s workers’ compensation claim process would have to come from the state Legislature, Penser said.
Legislation, which would make it easier for Hanford workers to get worker compensation claims approved for illnesses, has been passed by the state House, but still needs state Senate approval.
Substitute House Bill 1723 would require the Department of Labor and Industries to presume that respiratory and neurological illnesses and a wide range of cancers were caused by working as little as eight hours at Hanford.
However, other evidence, such as a history of smoking or lifestyle choices, could also be considered before a claim is approved or denied.
The Senate has yet to hold a hearing on the bill.