Ohio Workers’ Comp Report Finds Shortcomings in Program

August 23, 2007

The Ohio state’s insurance program for injured workers did nothing improper when it arbitrarily reduced workers’ compensation rates for some companies using little criteria or documentation, the Ohio inspector general said in a report issued this week.

State law allows the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to grant companies rate appeals, and administrators have leeway to arrive at those decisions, the report by Inspector General Tom Charles said.

The investigation set out to determine if political influence played a role in rate reductions for some companies.

Rate appeals were requested by employers that had been removed from the bureau’s group-rate discount program because of on-the-job injuries that became too costly to the bureau’s insurance fund, the report said.

Under the structure set up by former Workers’ Comp Administrator James Conrad, the decisions were made by one person, John Romig, the former chief of employer services. Romig “wielded almost imperial power” at the bureau, Charles’ report said.

Companies that made their rate requests through state representatives or senators usually received quicker action, but Charles said that’s common at most state agencies.

One lawmaker, state Sen. Jeffry Armbruster, a Republican from suburban Cleveland who left at the end of 2006 because of term limits, violated ethics laws by lobbying the bureau for lower premiums on his gas station business, the Legislative Inspector General’s office found in June.

The case has been referred to prosecutors. Armbruster has denied wrongdoing.

Charles recommended that the bureau tighten its policies on appeals and give equal consideration to all requests, whether they are made through lawmakers or not. Charles also urged the bureau to apply industry-approved standards to make the group-rate program more equitable.

The investigation grew out of an audit last year that found that rates were inexplicably lowered for 27 Ohio employers. The audit, covering January 2003 through September 2005, found no written policies or procedures to determine when workers’ comp administrators would override the computer system to lower rates.

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