New Texas Work Comp Commissioner: We’ve Come a Long Way

September 26, 2008

The Texas workers’ compensation system is not yet working perfectly, but “it has come a long way,” says the state’s new Commissioner of Workers’ Compensation Rod Bordelon.

In a speech before an audience of workers’ compensation professionals, Bordelon praised the work of former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Albert Betts and Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin in the overhaul of the workers’ compensation system mandated by the state legislature in House Bill 7.

“Commissioner Betts did a tremendous job of moving us as an independent agency of workers’ comp to a division of the Department of Insurance,” Bordelon said during the 2008 Workers’ Compensation Conference sponsored by the Insurance Council of Texas.

Commissioner Betts, he said, “worked to great lengths to try to make sure we streamline the process and we have a seamless transition between the work that workers’ compensation was doing and the other aspects of the Department of Insurance. I want to continue that work because I think it’s important.”

Bordelon noted that despite the fact that very large employers are increasingly opting out of the workers’ compensation system, the market in Texas still represents nearly $3 billion in gross written premium. “The total number of carriers writing policies in 2007 was 230. Total dollars spent on medical benefits was $1.3 billion. Those are pretty sizeable numbers,” he said.

He said it was important to “recognize that there are real people paying for this. Ultimately the employers in the system are paying for every dollar of this. We have to be mindful of that. I certainly am. … I want to make sure we take care of those who are subscribing to the system and for those that are not subscribing to try to provide some incentives for them to come back.”

He said trends in the workers’ comp market in Texas “seem to be good.” Rates and losses are trending down. The volume of annual claims per injuries reported in 2007 was a little more than 108,000, Bordelon said. “That’s down from 115,000 in 2006 and 116(000) in 2005. Frequency seems to be trending downward and that’s a good thing.”

The bad news is that the number of work related fatalities in Texas rose to 527 in 2007, compared with 486 in 2006. He said one of the things he wanted to look at “is to what extent this has some bearing on certain types of industries. With the rise in fuel prices, the rise in gas prices, we have a lot of uptick in the oil service sector, in the energy sector and I know that’s a dangerous workplace. I want to do some cross checking there. Otherwise it’s an alarming uptick on those fatalities.”

The incident rate of occupational injury and illness has also risen slightly. In 2006 the incident rate was 3.7 per 100 full time workers, or about 258,000 cases. In 2005 the incident rate was 3.6 per 100 full time workers.

Bordelon, who formerly served as public counsel and executive director of the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, said he asked himself when he accepted the commissioner position, what would he want if he were on the other side of the bench, coming before the commissioner as an advocate.

“I thought three things: I want to be heard; I want to be treated fairly, honestly and impartially; and I want frankly that the commissioner will rule in my favor. I cannot promise you the last one but I will promise you that I will listen to you,” he said.

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