In a significant victory for AIA and the business community, the Oklahoma legislature last Friday passed a comprehensive workers’ compensation reform bill (SB 1X). Passage came during a special legislative session called by Gov. Brad Henry (D) to address the problems plaguing the state’s workers’ comp system.
“The final bill is truly a compromise measure that includes a number of positive provisions for all of the stakeholders in this system – injured workers, employers and insurers,” said John Marlow, AIA assistant vice president, southwest region.
This package includes reforms in four major areas: increased benefits for workers; reduced legal costs; reduced medical costs and increased workplace safety; and increased competition in the insurance market.
According to Gov. Henry’s office, a preliminary estimate from the National Council on Compensation Insurance indicates that this legislation will achieve cost savings of as much as $108 million every year.
“One of the key provisions in the measure establishes a use-and-file system for insurance rates, which should help to streamline the bureaucratic red tape that companies currently must cut through. Most importantly, this new system should encourage more competition in the market, which is a key factor in improving the overall health of the system,” Marlow said. “Insurance companies also will be able to enter the Oklahoma market without receiving prior approval from the state, which should be another boost to competition.”
“Medical costs should be reduced by allowing employer choice of physician and legal costs should be reduced by instituting value-added attorney fees, which provide that if lawyers strike settlement deals, they will only make money on the amount they obtain for a client above the settlement originally offered by the employer,” Marlow explained.
“A provision enabling workers’ compensation judges to appoint independent doctors to provide evaluations of injured workers should also help reduce legal costs by eliminating the ‘dueling doctors’ problem. The bottom line is that passing this bill will ensure that injured workers get the medical care they need, while legal and medical costs in the system will be reduced and some bureaucratic regulations will be eliminated,” said Marlow.
The bill has been sent to Gov. Henry who is expected to sign the measure into law.
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