Texas Sunset Advisory Commission Recommends Dismantling TWCC

September 16, 2004

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission thinks the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission should be abolished. At a Sept. 15 meeting, the committee recommended that TWCC’s current structure should be dismantled and proposed shifting many of its responsibilities to the Texas Department of Insurance.

The committee’s recommendations also include creating a separate unit within TDI to oversee the workers’ comp system and establishing a health care network system for injured workers similar to existing plans for group health care.

In response to the Sunset Commission’s proposed changes, TWCC Chairman Mike Hachtman issued the following statement:

“The Sunset Commission has made some good recommendations. However, the recommendation to abolish the Workers’ Compensation Commission is like replacing the crew of the Titanic but not changing course. The Texas workers’ compensation system is still headed for disaster. I am concerned we are spending too much time and effort talking about who is going to be driving and not on where we should be headed. The fundamental problems with the Texas workers’ compensation system lie within the system, not with the administration.

“We must have comprehensive reform creating a fair, balanced, efficient system to improve service and care to injured workers, get workers back to work, reduce disputes, improve certainty to all participants, reduce the “hassles” of the system to all participants and ultimately lower costs. Workers’ compensation is intended to serve workers and their employers. While the insurance component is important and needed, it is an ancillary part of this mission.

“The Texas Department of Insurance regulates insurance companies, including workers’ comp insurance companies. And they do a good job, but there is nothing in the TDI mission, goals or vision remotely close to administering workers’ compensation. They are not set up to administer disputes on medical issues, settle issues on injury compensability or income benefits.

“While the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission does have some problems, we have been working within the confines of the existing law. We have more than 1,000 dedicated employees working at the Commission who are handling more than 200,000 workers’ compensation claims each year and assisting injured workers to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

“We have worked with the Sunset Commission to identify areas where the agency can improve its performance. In fact, we have already begun to implement many of these recommendations including improving communications with injured workers, increasing stakeholder input on Commission rules and procedures, and focusing increased resources on return-to-work initiatives. However, nothing in the Sunset Commission findings warrants the abolition of the agency.”

The Texas Association of Business, which has been critical of TWCC operations in the past, praised the advisory commission’s recommendations in a statement released by TAB President Bill Hammond.

“We applaud Chairman [Burt] Solomons for his bold steps and hard work on behalf of employers, employees, health care providers and insurance carriers” Hammond said.

“Texas employers have been burdened by skyrocketing workers’ compensation costs in recent years, yet injured workers suffer from a system that delivers mediocre care. The time for change is now. We urge legislators to take the steps necessary to reform this system and remove what has become a blight on our business climate.”

The Sunset Advisory Committee analyzes state agencies for relevance and functionality, and reports to the Legislature with recommendations on whether a particular agency needs to be abolished or if fundamental changes to the agency’s mission or operations are required. Agencies are typically reviewed every 12 years. About 20 to 30 agencies go through the Sunset process each legislative session.

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