Oklahoma: Lawmakers target costs, look to restructure comp system
Leaders in the House and Senate have indicated that workers' comp reform is a top priority for the current legislative session. House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said fixing the state's workers' comp system is essential to economic development in Oklahoma and that the goal of the reform is to significantly improve employee benefits while lowering business expenses.
Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, who chaired an interim study on the issue last year, said he favors a two-track process.
"The first is to make smaller changes that will produce immediate results in efficiency and savings to the system," he said. "The second track will look at the structural changes that need to be made which will change the scope of the workers' compensation system. Allowing employers more flexibility in options for workers' compensation is critical to long-term reform."
According to Sullivan, the reforms could include defining the term "surgery" for purposes of compensation, strengthening the value-added attorney's fees provision, and capping the time for temporary total disability. A reduction in the number of workers' comp judges may also be considered, coupled with a more equitable distribution of judges between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Edmond, said Oklahoma has an opportunity to fast-forward how the state provides workers' comp benefits. The lawmaker has filed House Bill 2886, which would make it possible for the Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council and the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board to begin a pilot program where state agencies and employers could take advantage of the 24/7 coverage provision in the state's Workers' Compensation Act, known as Title 85.
"We have a provision in place now that allows for an exciting option in how we currently offer coverage for on-the-job injuries and sickness -- 24/7 coverage," he said. "It combines the best of both group health and workers' compensation coverage."
Moore said that for as much as both types of coverage cost, the state would save a great deal of money under the legislation, reduce the animosity and adversarial relationship promoted by the current system, and help more people become insured.
"Whatever deductible you have for health insurance is what you would pay for the injury, regardless of whether it was job-related or not," he said. "Supplemental coverage would meet many of the expenses incurred using a benefit bank employers can put into place using their savings. The exclusive remedy provision, for liability protection, covers 24/7 coverage as well."
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February 22, 2010
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