Bill to include Workers Comp Task Force recommendations
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Published: 18-Dec-2010

Legislative Staff Release

Published: 18-Dec-2010

The recent recommendations of the Task Force on Vocational Rehabilitation in Worker's Compensation will be introduced as legislation in the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Mark McCullough announced on Friday (December 18).

“Our expensive workers compensation system remains one of the barriers to economic growth in Oklahoma, and it continues to fail injured workers,” said McCullough, a Sapulpa Republican. “The task force’s work provides a good blueprint for future reforms and I plan to submit those findings to the Legislature as action items.”

McCullough, an attorney, served as chair of the task force, which reviewed the workers’ compensation system and the issue of vocational rehabilitation.

The task force endorsed reforms that would return employees to work when possible as a means to both reduce litigation and control costs. The group recommended that vocational rehabilitation begin much earlier than it does in the current system and also recommended implementing evidence-based medical guidelines to identify injuries.

In their report, the task force noted, “Vocational rehabilitation through our system is utilized infrequently, rarely successfully places an injured worker in a difference occupation, is not attractive to the injured worker for a variety of reasons, occurs much too late in the case timeline and is perhaps cynically used to settle a claim for a higher dollar amount with no real belief by either part that the funds will actually be used for the purposes of vocational rehabilitation.”
 
“There are significant numbers of workers who get injured, get a check, and get walked out the door because they can no longer be accommodated at their place of employment because of their injury,” McCullough said. “When the check runs out, those employees are back to zero. We can do better. I believe we should focus on retraining those employees in a cost-effective manner for other work. Helping employees become productive again serves a valuable public policy. If they don't return to the workforce, they can end up on disability, lose the pride of productivity, and become a drain on State and Federal resources.”

McCullough said his legislation will include reforms to start vocational rehabilitation before MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement) in certain cases and may include having a physician's advisory council draft a set of fact-specific injuries to serve as a “trigger” for earlier vocational rehabilitation assessment.

McCullough said his legislation will also include many provisions from a bill he filed last year. That bill, the product of a Working Group sponsored by The State Chamber, would turn Oklahoma’s Worker's Compensation system into an administrative system. All states but Oklahoma and Nebraska have some type of administrative-based system.

“We passed a suite of bills last year to make significant changes to our existing lawsuit-based system and I realize Republican leadership may want to give those reforms more time to work,” McCullough said. “However, if we decide even stronger medicine is necessary for our ailing workers’ comp system, I plan to be ready.”

Representatives from a wide range of groups interested in workers compensation issues either served on the Task Force or gave presentations to the group, including organized labor, employers, medical providers, vocational rehabilitation providers, and attorneys.

“I greatly appreciate all the groups who participated and the House staffers who helped put the final report together,” said McCullough. “I believe we have an opportunity to now improve the system for both the injured worker and businesses.”

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