Workers Comp Administrative proposal clears Senate
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Published: 27-Feb-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY The state Senate gave overwhelming approval, 34-12, to the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act (Senate Bill 1062) on Feb. 27. 

Consistently listed as top priority for Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican, the measure would shift the Sooner State dramatically away from its litigious-oriented system

In a statement after the vote, Bingman said “We have to put the brakes on the runaway cost of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system if we are truly serious about growing our economy. 

“Our adversarial system has been one of the most expensive in the country, and it hasn’t done a very good job of helping injured workers get quality medical care in a timely fashion.  The result has been disastrous for business, for Oklahoma, and most importantly, for injured workers.  Today, we have taken a major step to replace our adversarial court system and move Oklahoma forward.”

Republican Senator Anthony Sykes of Moore, co-author of Bingman’s proposal, said the legislation, if enacted would replace litigation with a system “designed to help injured workers get healed and back to work.  Today’s vote signals a new direction for Oklahoma.  We will no longer settle for a system that helps trial lawyers get rich at the expense of Oklahoma’s businesses and injured workers.”

Fred Morgan, a former legislator now serving as president of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce, commented that the proposed law, now headed to the House of Representatives, would replace a “broken, court-based system” with one that will allow “quality, timely medical care” for workers so they can get “back on the job as soon as possible.”

Bob Burke, an Oklahoma City attorney and former state Commerce Secretary, has opposed the legislation consistently. In a “report card” provided to CapitolBeatOK, he said creating an administrative system patterned on the one in Arkansas “will add about $20 million to the annual state budget because of the necessity of maintaining dual systems.” Despite the shift away from litigation envisioned in the new bill, he contends, “A Workers Compensation Court would be needed for perhaps 30 years to administer the approximately 100,000 cases that remain open at this time.”

Burke’s analysis asserts as many as 200 new employees would be required to run the new system.  He has stressed, repeatedly, his view that for legal reasons the state might have to run, for perhaps for decades, essentially three systems: the pre-2011 system, the 2011-13 reformed system, and the new administrative system, if that is ultimately enacted.

Critics of S.B. 1062 have stressed that reforms enacted in 2011 and official disability guidelines (ODG) for workers comp doctors (only promulgated last year) should be given time to work before any further changes. 

Burke also says that analyses pointing to benefits from an administrative system in Oregon are outdated and wildly inaccurate. 

Cheering today’s vote was Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello, who said Bingman’s approach will get injured workers treatment, needed compensation for lost wages, and back in the workforce.

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Costello said, In August 2012, I traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas to be briefed by Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission. I was privileged to receive a one-on-one briefing from the three commissioners, including Chairman A. Watson Bell and their CEO and Assistant CEO.  I am particularly pleased the senate proposal is based on the Arkansas model, with its significant safety component that reduces repeated injuries to the employee. The best way to reduce worker compensation premiums is to keep the worker from injury in the first place.”

Driving the push for Bingman’s administrative reform are Oklahoma’s workers’ comp insurance rates, 57 percent higher than in neighboring Arkansas and, further, sixth highest in the country. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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