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Glitches in new paperless workers' comp system holding up claims

It was inevitable that Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation system would eventually go electronic, but no one was expecting the substantial delays being created at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, at least 500 new workers’ comp claims are still awaiting assignments to judges since the bureau’s new paperless system went online on Sept. 9.

The glitches have affected a broad swath of functions ranging from injured people and their lawyers being unable to upload claims and files to previously-existing files disappearing altogether. Workers, employers, insurance companies and even judges aren’t being notified when claims have been adjudicated. In some cases, hearings with judges have been scheduled, but the judges can’t access the case files on hearing days.

The Department of Labor and Industry signed a contract during the Rendell administration with a New York-based consulting firm, which was to overhaul the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation’s claims processing system and make it possible for filings, notices and hearing scheduling to be handled electronically. Initial development was to cost $45 million, with an additional $5.1 million each year for maintenance and enhancement over the next three years.

The problems, however, became apparently as soon as the new system went live. The Labor and Industry Department says that the contract has a 90-day warranty period, so the additional work to fix the glitches won’t cost extra -- but that’s cold comfort for the injured people whose claims are being held up.

One injured worker interviewed by the Inquirer hurt his back and legs in early September and is still awaiting an initial hearing. The 49-year-old landscaper fell through a manhole that had been left open on a job site. While the computer glitches drag on, he still has to pay for his rent, food and child support, while the medical bills roll in.

A Department of Labor and Industry spokesperson said the agency has added staff to work through the claims backlog as soon as it can be done, adding "there are always going to be growing pains associated with going from paper to online." Unfortunately, those growing pains are costing injured workers, at least in the form of stress and aggravation.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Computer woes plague Pa. worker comp system," Angela Couloumbis, , Oct. 21, 2013

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