Workers comp still hot topic in Oklahoma
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, December 06, 2012
12/10/12 at 11:22 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Previous efforts at workers compensation reform have failed and the state needs to look at going to an administrative system, the leader of the state Senate said Wednesday.
"As far as bringing the rates down, yes, they have (failed), obviously," Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said following the State Chamber's Public Affairs Forum in Oklahoma City. During the forum, Bingman and incoming House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, indicated that workers compensation reform again would be a top issue when lawmakers return to the Capitol in February.
Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said he favors switching from a legal system to an administrative system.
"I think if we are going to make wholesale changes as part of that equation you have to address and have the administrative system," Bingman said. "Again, the devil is in the details on an administrative system."
Only Oklahoma, Nebraska and Rhode Island use a legal system to handle cases of injured workers, said Michael Clingman, administrator of the state Workers Compensation Court.
Under an administrative system, claims would be handled by administrative law judges. Those cases could still be appealed to the judicial system, Clingman said.
"What drives workers compensation costs are benefits and the eligibility for those benefits, regardless of the type of system," Clingman said.
Workers compensation reform has been an annual issue at the Legislature for years.
Bingman said that in the judicial process the state currently uses, there is a lot of interference from the legal system.
"Those cases are drawn-out," Bingman said.
He said a workers compensation case involves three times the amount of paperwork of a regular health claim.
"The incentive is to drive the case out as long as you can," Bingman said.
During the forum, House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, used the issue to take a dig at Republicans, who control the Legislature and governor's office.
"I guess I am sort of confused on the issue because I have been at the Capitol now for six years and in those six years I have dealt with probably three or four major workers compensation reform packages, at least," Inman said.
Inman said Republicans have hailed prior reform measure passed in 2011 as the solution to the costly system, but now say more reform is needed. "We are confused," Inman said. "My caucus wants to help."
With supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans can pass anything they want, said Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre.
"They have passed workers compensation reform time and time again," Ivester said. "So the question is, why isn't it lowering rates?"
What it takes to lower rates isn't always pretty, he said.
The state has been on the fringes of workers compensation for many years, Bingman said, adding that the costs to employers make the state uncompetitive.
"We are trying to keep everything on the table right now," Bingman said.
The issue is more important than tax reform, Bingman said. Tax reform was a key focus of the legislative session last year. Bills to reform the tax system and reduce the state income tax did not garner legislative support, despite being highly touted by legislative leadership and Gov. Mary Fallin.
Original Print Headline: Workers comp still hot topic in state
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
Brian Bingman: In the judicial process the state currently uses, interference from the legal system causes unnecessary delays, he says