Alaska Division of Workers' Compensation
IAIABC: Please provide a description of your organization.
Charles Collins, Director, Workers' Compensation Division, Alaska Division of Workers' Compensation: The Alaska Division of Workers' Compensation operates inside of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The Division of Workers’ Compensation is the agency charged with the administration of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (Act). The Act provides for the payment by employers or their insurance carriers of medical, disability and reemployment benefits to injured workers. The Division is required to administer the Act in a manner that is quick, efficient, fair, and predictable to all parties.
The Division houses the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board (AWCB) which hears disputes arising between employees and employers or their insurance carriers regarding the payment of benefits under the Act and adopts regulations.
The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission has jurisdiction to hear appeals from final decisions and orders of the board and is supported administratively by the Director of Workers’ Compensation.
Workers Compensation was first introduced in Alaska while yet a territory, having adopted workman’s protection in 1915. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation enjoyed today originates in the Statehood Act and first Alaska Legislature of 1959. Set up to protect injured employees, the Division works closely with our sister Divisions of Labor Standards and Safety and Insurance to fulfill our mission. The Workers Compensation Division, WCD, consists of 51 positions working in three general areas, adjudications, investigations, and rehabilitation.
CC: The AWCB and our staff take our mission statement very seriously: to ensure the quick, efficient, fair, and predictable delivery of indemnity and medical benefits to injured workers at a reasonable cost to the employers
We view our role as the intermediator in ensuring injured workers can rely on to return to a normal lifestyle and employers can rely on to produce fair and reasonable return on investment. In Alaska we cannot afford to lose participation in the workforce, and so we have an employment first policy to promote employment in the general workforce as the preferred option for people with disabilities receiving assistance from publicly- funded systems.
IAIABC: What do you see as some of the major challenges the industry is facing, and how can we as a community address them?
CC: The unknown is my concern, every year I see more presumptions offered for inclusion in workers’ compensation coverage. Many that seem to make sense and some that blur the lines between workplace and general population coverage. My concern is that eventually there will be no bright defining line between the two. With more presumptions on common injury/disease claims, remote work from home jobs, and mental stress induced diagnoses a call for single provider becomes more apparent.
The biggest challenge for the Division is successfully reemploying injured workers who are unable to return to the work field the injury occurred in. Alaska is lacking in retraining support for injured workers and additionally has no support for employers who might hire a previously injured worker attempting to reenter the workforce. Reforms in Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work programs are needed, and traditional forms will need to be updated to meet tomorrow’s workplace.
To address this, the AWCB has asked the Division to work on a SAW/RTW product. Currently in the planning stages the Division has put forth a plan to implement the process as an alternative to the current reemployment and rehabilitation process. To move forward the Legislature will need to engage and pass legislation to change the law.
IAIABC: What's an interesting fact about your organization that most people don't know?
CC: Possibly the most interesting aspect of workers compensation in Alaska is that commercial fishing and commercial fishermen are not covered in Alaska. The fishing industry has an alternative plan set up before statehood that covers commercial fishermen injured on the job in Alaska. The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund reimburses injured commercial fishermen and vessel owners for claims to cover injuries up to a limit if the boat owner purchases a Protection and Indemnity Policy for the vessel.
IAIABC: Why is your organization a member of the IAIABC? What would you tell others about the benefits of membership?
CC: The Division's primary motive in joining the IAIABC is to participate in the Electronic Data Interchange program. However, the benefits of being a member extend beyond just program participation. The Division frequently seeks advice and support from the network of experts within the IAIABC through online forums, committee meetings, or in-person conferences. The Division also utilizes workshops and online courses to enhance staff training and education. Lastly, the Division makes use of information and resources generated by IAIABC to make well-informed decisions.