| February 19, 2013

Work comp reform could be game changer

Since my time as a research analyst at the Oklahoma House of Representatives and then as the director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department, I have studied the effects of Oklahoma’s broken workers’ compensation system. Our current system is designed to make employers and employees adversaries, while impairing the rehabilitation of injured workers, burdening families, and placing a heavy drag on Oklahoma’s economy and productivity.

The flaws with our current system are well-documented.

Our work comp system is outdated. Only one other state, Tennessee, has an adversarial system like Oklahoma’s, and their governor is leading an effort to replace Tennessee’s broken system.

Our work comp system is too costly. Oklahoma has one of the lowest costs of living, yet has some of the highest workers’ compensation premiums in the country.

Our work comp system is too litigious, and unfairly incentivizes litigation.

Our work comp system rewards counterproductive results and incentivizes choices that make returning to work more difficult. Oklahoma’s permanent partial disability awards are higher than regional and national averages.

Our work comp system devotes more resources to litigation and operation of the system than it does to medical benefits. The exact opposite is the case both regionally and nationally.

Our work comp system puts us at a significant disadvantage when it comes to expanding our economy, creating jobs, and providing opportunity for Oklahoma families.

Our work comp system must be replaced—and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman wants to do just that. After reviewing his proposal, it is clear to me that Oklahoma may be on its way to implementing a workers’ compensation system that encourages the collaboration of employers and employees, makes sure injured employees are compensated and rehabilitated, helps families by protecting their breadwinners and their time, and offers a chance for an economic boom to the state. The replacement proposal offered by Pro Tem Bingman (and the many others involved with shaping it) could well be a game changer for Oklahoma. The policy changes include the following:

  • Creation of an administrative process for resolving workers’ compensation injuries
  • Creation of options for all employers, allowing them to utilize fully insured or self-insured options to help maximize resources, all while ensuring the same benefits to employees
  • Restructuring of permanent partial disability and other benefit awards to encourage proper compensation for injuries and incentivize productive returns to work

Pro Tem Bingman should be commended for his unwavering commitment to seeing that real workers’ compensation solutions are provided to Oklahomans. His work and the work of many others—including former Governor Frank Keating and current Governor Mary Fallin—will make Oklahoma a premier competitor for the expansion and creation of both manufacturing and other employment. You may recall that Governor Fallin began championing the need for reform while serving as lieutenant governor, convening the Fallin Commission on Workers’ Compensation in 1997 in an effort to seek reforms that would lower costs and build a system that was fair to both employers and to injured workers. Given the current expense of nearly $1 billion on workers’ compensation premiums in Oklahoma, and the hundreds of thousands of hours lost in productivity and the burden to families, the proposed reforms if adopted have the potential to have the same economic impact as a major cut in Oklahoma’s personal income tax.

It’s past time to replace our broken workers’ compensation system, and policy reforms like these provide the game-changing advantage Oklahoma needs.

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