OCPA to Outline Path to Effective Workers’ Comp Reform

January 5, 2012

As observers of Oklahoma’s public-policy scene are keenly aware, the field of workers’ compensation reform is littered with the remains of failed reforms of years past.

Why do our efforts to reform the workers’ compensation system repeatedly disappoint?

In a new report (“Once More into the Breach: The Path to Effective Workers’ Compensation Reform,” forthcoming from OCPA), I will demonstrate that our failures stem from our refusal to address the chief structural feature of our system—its conception and organization as a judicial system.

Conceiving of workers’ compensation claims as legal causes of action, rather than employee benefits administered by the administrative branch of state government, places excessive control of the administration of the system in the hands of the judiciary. Given the prevailing culture of the segment of the Oklahoma legal profession that holds a commanding majority on the Oklahoma Supreme Court—a culture rooted in the state’s populist, anti-business tradition—the Court, as currently constituted, will not countenance the changes necessary to stop the cycle of inflated claims and adversarial conflict leading to the expensive and delayed resolution of claims.

Oklahoma will not succeed in implementing the reforms necessary to reduce costs until it, as has every state but one, transforms its system to one that is primarily administrative, with a more limited role for the judiciary. In the OCPA report, I will sketch the best legal and structural path for finally implementing comprehensive reform.

Andrew C. Spiropoulos (M.A., J.D., University of Chicago), a law professor at Oklahoma City University, serves as the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at OCPA.