September 9, 2013, marked the start of the New Age of WCAIS in the world of Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation practice. “WCAIS” stands for Workers’ Compensation Automation and Integration System. A major modernization project by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, it integrates a) the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, b) the judges in the Office of Adjudication, and c) the public (claimants, insurance companies, and attorneys) into one web-based information sharing system. The goal of this system is to allow secure electronic communication between the various involved entities and parties, online document management, and around-the-clock access to information, with a reduction in the dependence upon paper files and costs associated with postage.
How does it work? Simply explained, each injury claim within the Bureau is given its own claim folder, or “matter,” within the workers’ compensation website. Within this matter, all interested parties can access and exchange accident, payment, insurance, and medical information. Forms and other Bureau required reporting can now be done electronically through the Bureau’s companion Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI, program and placed directly into the assigned matter. As a subset of each matter, there is a “dispute” folder for every round of litigation. Within these disputes is the ability for carriers and attorneys to view and receive hearing notices and decisions from the court, file petitions and answers, communicate with the judge, upload documentary evidence and briefs, as well as to file appeals. Each WCAIS user, through a Bureau assigned Keystone ID, can securely access the account and navigate through an individualized “Dashboard” to view open matters, disputes, appeals, fee reviews, and other related items, all with a click of the mouse.
The system was scheduled to be rolled out in two stages. Phase One, which was rolled out in 2012, involved the paperless administration of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. However, Phase Two, beginning on September 9, 2013, finalized the transition from the Bureau’s old system to the full usage of WCAIS. In the final weeks before the “go live” date, all of the Bureau’s claim data was migrated from the old computer system into WCAIS. During this transition and until the new system was in place, the Bureau was unable to accept electronically filed petitions, assign mailed petitions, or issue any decisions.
On September 9, 2013, WCAIS went live. Unfortunately, there were immediate problems, which nearly resulted in the system being taken down. For four days, from September 10 through September 13, WCAIS was completely unavailable to all users. When the system finally resumed, obvious data errors were detected. Some employer names no longer matched the claimant. Attorneys for both claimants and employers could not electronically access most of their cases. The Bureau was unable to process the large and growing backlog of petitions that had been mailed during the data migration. The judges were unable to schedule hearings or issue decisions, including decisions approving Compromise and Releases. In short, the workers’ compensation system came to a grinding halt. The Bureau has assured all WCAIS users that fixes are being made and errors resolved. Yet, as of the drafting of this article, concerns and problems remain.
This has been a very large—and expensive—undertaking by the Department of Labor and Industry. As such, WCAIS is not going away. The attorneys at Cipriani & Werner are in constant communication with the Bureau concerning the latest updates, bug fixes, and recommended strategies for how to navigate WCAIS to best serve its clients. C& W staff has also received training in the usage of WCAIS to make the transition to WCAIS as seamless as possible.
In the coming weeks, there are a number of things that we should anticipate and expect to see. First, electronic communication to attorneys for both claimants and employers has not been flowing as readily as it should. Due to errors in the system’s database for each attorney, your attorney may not have access to all his or her files. Cipriani & Werner has been in direct communication with representatives of the Bureau and the WCAIS implementation team to correct this problem as quickly as possible. However, before it is thoroughly corrected, we are asking our clients to provide their attorneys with copies of any and all documentation received from the Bureau, including petitions, Notice of Assignments, Hearing notices, and decisions.
Second, and as noted above, judges have been unable to issue decisions since mid-August. However, during the inactive transition period, the judges have undoubtedly continued to write their decisions. Once the ability to circulate decisions is restored, we expect a flood of decisions to be forthcoming. Therefore, if you have been waiting for a decision in a litigated case, you should expect to receive it soon.
Third, along with WCAIS came revisions to numerous Pennsylvania Bureau Claim forms. Please verify that you are submitting and using the most current forms, which can be downloaded or accessed from the Bureau’s website at: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/wcais/20738/for…. WCAIS also permits the direct submission or upload of many of these forms directly through the WCAIS web portal.
Fourth, the day-to-day administration and handling of claims and litigation has been forever altered by the imposition of WCAIS. Undoubtedly, there will be questions, which will cause continual changes, upgrades, and fixes to WCAIS and further alter how claims and litigation will be handled beyond what is mentioned in this article.
Please contact your attorney at Cipriani & Werner with any questions that you might have. If your organization would like a training presentation on the new forms and new strategies based on the implementation of WCAIS, please contact us. We will do our best to provide you with the most up-to-date information and recommendations based upon the recent sweeping changes to handling workers’ compensation cases in Pennsylvania.