Okla. Workers’ Comp Reform Bill Passes Committee

February 18, 2005

In a bipartisan vote, an Oklahoma House of Representatives committee moved a comprehensive workers’ compensation reform package past its first hurdle, the House Media Services Division reported.

The House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 2046 by a vote of 8 to 5.

HB 2046 comprises a set of landmark reforms to fix Oklahoma’s broken workers’ compensation system. The system stands as one of the most expensive in the nation, rife with lawsuits, potential fraud and abuse. And the workers’ compensation system in the state is consistently cited by potential new employers as a stumbling block.

“Our broken workers’ compensation system is the number one barrier to new jobs and better wages for Oklahomans,” said House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville. “Today we took one step closer to making our state a better place for jobs and new businesses.”

Speaker Hiett and Judiciary Chairman Rep. Fred Morgan (R-Oklahoma City) authored the legislation.

“We must have a reformation of the workers’ comp system in our state. We’ve worked for many years to move forward with real and significant workers compensation reform,” said Rep. Morgan. “Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system is a severe strain on our economy, and it hurts every citizen in our state.”

“Our reform plan reduces litigation and medical costs, increases worker benefits, and injects competition into the marketplace,” said Hiett. “We’ll make workers’ comp less costly to employers and better for injured workers.”

House Bill 2046 will address four major reforms:

*Increase benefits for workers
• Help injured workers get the money and fast medical treatment they deserve.
• Increased death and burial benefits.
• Death: Increased from $20,000 for a spouse to $100,000 and from $5,000 for surviving children to $25,000 for a surviving child.
• Burial: Increased from $5,000 to $10,000.
• Making it easier to claim benefits for disfigurement.
• Increased “take home” benefits for hurt workers by avoiding attorneys’ fees through early resolution.
*Reduce legal costs
• Establish an ombudsman process and encourage mediation for resolving claims early, before legal action is filed.
• Attorneys are paid fees only on the amount they obtain for a client above the settlement offered by the employer. (Value-added fees).
• No more “dueling doctors” that fuel lawsuits and increase costs.
*Reduce medical costs for workers
• Employer choice of physician.
• Employers offer three physicians from employer plan
• Employee chooses one physician from network
• Court defers to the treating physician.
• Encourage enrollment in certified workplace medical plans.
• Ensure that heart-related and cumulative injuries are clearly proven workplace injuries.
*Increase marketplace competition
• A true market for workers’ compensation insurance by moving to a use-and-file system that will allow the market to set workers’ compensation rates, encouraging more competition.
• State health department to conduct site visits to review certified workplace medical plans.
• Struggling small businesses won’t be crippled by high insurance costs.
• Transforming CompSource into a private company.

Other reforms include tax incentives for businesses for maintaining and improving workplace safety and placing restrictions on the prescription of narcotics by physicians to avoid addiction.

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