Oklahoma: Lawmakers to examine reform proposals under House study
Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, said the study will allow lawmakers the chance to review proposals in a methodical way.
"There's no doubt Oklahoma's workers' compensation system fails both employees and employers," McCullough said. "The high-cost, low-benefit structure of our system is a barrier to economic growth that must be knocked down."
The workers' comp study is one of 120 interim projects that will be conducted over the course of the next several months before the Legislature reconvenes. The study will be conducted by the House Economic Development Committee and is a combined effort with Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee.
This year, McCullough filed legislation to dismantle Oklahoma's Workers' Compensation Court and replace it with an administrative system headed by a three-member Workers' Compensation Commission. The bill would have also established a vocational rehabilitation program to help return employees to their prior working capabilities.
McCullough said the interim study will allow a more thorough public vetting of the proposals.
"The study gives all involved parties greater opportunity to review proposed reforms, helping identify potential problems and eliminating them before we have to vote on actual legislation," he said. "I believe there is growing momentum for reform in Oklahoma, and this is a good opportunity to bring all parties to the table."
In addition, McCullough said a working group has been meeting weekly since February to go over the proposal line by line in an effort to create a system full of "every improvement and best practice we identify."
Attorney involvement, PPD payments. McCullough said one of the problems is that attorney involvement is 50 percent higher in Oklahoma's workers' comp system than the national average. He said this explains why the state experienced a $270 million payout in claims in 2006 -- the highest payout in 18 years and a 69 percent increase since 2000.
McCullough said research has also shown that the rate of permanent partial disability payments in Oklahoma is almost twice the regional average and the average lost-time claim frequency is also 60 percent higher than the national average.
Regardless of where the study leads, McCullough said any reform measure must provide greater medical benefits to injured workers, a goal he said is also compatible with driving down insurance rates.
"The point of this reform effort should be to create policies that help people return to work instead of staying off the job for long periods of time to fight over disability ratings," McCullough said. "We have an opportunity to make Oklahoma a more attractive place to do business and a state that takes care of its injured workers."
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July 23, 2009
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