Despite Court Ruling, Ohio Slow in Determing Benefits for Injured Workers

June 18, 2007

Ohio says it didn’t begin recalculating benefits that could be due to almost 2,000 poor workers hurt on the job until this week despite a seven-month-old court ruling requiring such a recalculation.

The inaction by Ohio’s insurance fund for injured workers comes despite the attorney general’s declaration in January that he would not appeal the December ruling.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation says it determined the potential number of workers affected by the ruling months ago but did not begin calculating the effect on individual claims until asked for an update by The Associated Press this week.

At issue are workers hurt on jobs they got through welfare. As of Friday, the bureau’s Web site still contained misinformation for setting benefits for such workers.

Such claims “are set and paid differently than other claims,” the Web site said, contradicting the December court ruling, which maintained they weren’t different. Some workers could get considerably higher injury benefits as a result of the ruling and the state recalculations.

The bureau says it is reviewing the claims of 1,954 workers injured while on welfare jobs.

Marsha Ryan, the newly appointed bureau director in her third month on the job, called the lapse unacceptable and said there was no explanation for the inaccurate Web posting. She says she’s involved in making sure the claims are recalculated quickly.

“In the world I want the bureau to operate in, we anticipate, we prepare, we do all the research, so we can deliver as soon as possible to the people who are going to get the compensation,” Ryan told The Associated Press on Friday.

The fund is still trying to emerge from a corruption scandal stemming from an unorthodox $50 million investment in rare coins that helped end a decade of Republican control of state government last year.

Ryan said the agency should have been ready to make the new calculations in March after the state Industrial Commission, which oversees workers’ comp disputes, reviewed the cases of the workers named in the lawsuit.

“We need to bring a bit of private sector rigor and best practices from entities both private and public to bear on operations,” said Ryan, a former power company executive.

The state Supreme Court said in 1996 that the state couldn’t deny full death benefits to the widow of a man who died as a result of a disease he contracted on a public relief job.

The Equal Justice Foundation, a civil rights group, sued on behalf of two workers in late 2004, saying the state wasn’t following the 1996 ruling. In December, the 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Columbus said the ruling applied to all welfare workers.

“It’s important that government agencies follow the laws and follow the regulations and especially follow orders laid down by the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Judith Goldstein, a foundation lawyer.

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