Capitol Report Capitol Notebook: Bingman's workers comp plan coming soon
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2013
2/17/13 at 3:10 AM
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, is expected to unveil his workers compensation reform program on Monday.
Bingman is pursuing two radical changes: Replacing the current workers compensation court with an administrative system, and allowing employers to offer a benefit package to cover on-the-job injuries in lieu of workers compensation insurance.
Bingman also has a bill to mutualize CompSource, which means the policy holders would own the state insurance fund.
Business leaders say replacing the workers comp courts with an administrative system will save employers millions of dollars a year by reducing litigation. Arkansas, which has much lower workers compensation costs, is the model, they say.
But skeptics say Arkansas' system costs taxpayers twice as much to operate, has about 50 percent more employees and hears one-third as many cases. They also point out that Oklahoma will have to operate both systems for at least three years, and possibly longer, because cases begun under the old system will continue under those laws.
The "opt-out" language expected Monday would require employers to offer benefits comparable to those guaranteed by the state's workers compensation laws, a significant departure from the Texas law - or lack thereof - from which it is derived.
Texas is the only state that effectively allows employers to completely avoid workers compensation insurance, or to offer coverage as a benefit similar to health insurance. The trade-off is that while workers compensation systems limit employer liability, injured workers in Texas can sue uninsured employers in district court.
Mutualization of CompSource addresses a long-standing effort to privatize what was originally an "insurer of last resort," but which has become the state's largest carrier. The dissolution of CompSource is backed by private insurers and some legislators who oppose it on principle.
Small and high-risk business owners fear their rates will rise if CompSource is broken up or privatized.
House Dems speak up: Gov. Mary Fallin should be more concerned about fixing roads and bridges and the generally poor health of Oklahomans and less with a tax cut, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman said last week.
"The numbers don't add up when it comes to the Republicans' proposed income tax cut," he said during a press briefing Thursday afternoon.
Inman said House Democrats continue to be concerned about an effort to roll back last year's water planning bill and by Fallin's continued refusal to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Second life for audit bill: A reworked version of House Bill 1323 made it through the House General Government Committee on its second try last week.
Prompted by House dissatisfaction with an arrangement that funneled $2 million to an Oklahoma City junior livestock show, HB 1323 would give the state auditor and inspector the right to inspect the books of any nonprofit that contracts with the state.
The bill originally lost 9-0 in committee because it would have allowed audits of anyone doing business with the state. A proposal limiting the audits to nonprofits passed 7-2.