N. D. Commissioner Proposes Changes in Oversight of Workers’ Comp Agency

February 6, 2008

North Dakota’s Insurance Department should have authority to do regular reviews of the state’s workers’ compensation agency, says Commissioner Adam Hamm, who intends to seek legislators’ support for the idea.

The scrutiny would include regular “market conduct” reviews that would examine how the agency was handling claims from injured workers, and financial examinations every two years, Hamm said Monday.

His proposal is likely to become a focal point of this year’s campaign for insurance commissioner. Hamm, a former Fargo attorney, is running for his first term after Gov. John Hoeven appointed him to the job last October.

Jasper Schneider, a Fargo attorney and Democratic state legislator, has announced he will seek the Democratic endorsement to run for insurance commissioner. He has previously been an advocate of Insurance Department oversight of the Workforce Safety and Insurance agency.

“While we are sure to have differences on how to best use the department to fix WSI’s problems, we at least agree that the insurance commissioner should play a part,” Schneider said.

Hamm said the review he was suggesting is similar to what privately owned insurance companies must undergo. WSI is a state agency, and by law is the only provider of workers’ compensation insurance in North Dakota.

Mark Armstrong, a Workforce Safety and Insurance spokesman, said the agency would review Hamm’s proposal.

Hamm said he backed restoring the governor’s authority to hire the director of Workforce Safety and Insurance, and said he supported a ballot initiative that would implement the change. Advocates of the measure are gathering petition signatures to put the measure on North Dakota’s statewide ballot.

Under Hamm’s proposal, the WSI data that the Insurance Department would collect, and recommendations it would make, would be forwarded to the governor, who would decide what to do with the information.

Hamm intends to outline his ideas for the Legislature’s interim Industry, Business and Labor Committee, which will be sifting through proposals to change state workers’ compensation benefits and how the agency is administered. The panel is meeting Wednesday and Thursday in the Capitol.

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