Texas Work Comp Reform: A Lot Done, More to Go

September 21, 2006

Speaker after speaker at the Sept. 20 workers’ compensation conference presented by the Insurance Council of Texas recognized that while reform of Texas’ workers’ compensation system has come a long way, there is still a long way to go.

Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Albert Betts, appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to oversee the reforms mandated by House Bill 7, which was passed by the legislature in 2005, said when he leaves his office he wants to be able to acknowledge that Texas has the best workers’ compensation system in the nation.

Establishing a system of workers’ compensation health care networks is one of the goals of the reform legislation and to date about a dozen networks have been certified by the state so far in a process that began when the state began accepting applications for the networks in January. Betts said there are some 19 network applications pending.

Both Betts and Commissioner of Insurance Mike Geeslin have stated in the past that the process to authorize networks has been slower than some might have anticipated because the regulators want to make sure that each certified network will be able to provide the enhanced quality of care the legislation envisioned.

The jury is still out on how well the networks will perform but Betts encouraged the conference participants “give the networks time … we’re going to see a valuable tool in treating injured workers.” He acknowledged, however, that there may be areas of the state in which no networks will be available, especially in the more sparsely populated locations, “but we still need doctors there.”

He added that while there are around 18,500 doctors on the state’s approved doctor list for workers’ comp, “in some places in the state there is no doctor.” Betts said that is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Richard Levy, an attorney and legal and education director for the Texas AFL-CIO, said labor is concerned about network adequacy and the availability quality care for workers around the state. “Some networks are stingy on choice,” he said, citing a network that has been approved in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in which Fort Worth residents will have to drive to Dallas in order to see a one particular kind of specialist.

He said workers care about their choice of doctors and encouraged the regulators to consider continuity of care. The “most positive indicator of positive medical care is whether you have a relationship with your doctor,” Levy said.

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