Florida Authorities ‘Draw A Line in the Sand,’ Closely Watch Workers’ Compensation Claims

December 16, 2005

In October, 2003, when the Florida Legislature approved an updated workers’ compensation program, legislators “drew a line in the sand,” according to Andrew Sabolic, chief of the Florida Bureau of Employer Compliance.

Tanner Holloman, director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation Compliance, Sabolic and Jeff Korte, chief of the Division of Workers’ Compensation Fraud presented a series of town hall meetings across the state this week in Fort Myers, Tampa and Orlando, Fla.

“For years they have been hearing from employers that were playing by the rules that there were too many employers not paying workers’ compensation,” Sabolic explained. “When that happens it drives up the rates for everyone else and they end up subsidizing employers who are not following the law. The legislators said, we have to do something about this, we are tired of hearing about it.”

Sabolic explained that Workers’ compensation referendums occur every 10 to 15 years, because they are usually a blood bath within the Legislature.

“Legislators do not like to have to deal with workers’ compensation injuries, insurance carriers, hospitals, chiropractors and trial attorneys, because each wants a different outcome,” Sabolic said. “When such a referendum occurs politicians want to please everyone and can’t due to an imperfect system,” Sabolic continued. “It’s almost impossible to balance employer’s needs with those of an injured worker.”

Sabolic talked about the benefits of compliance and said the Bureau of Compliance has a “Zero tolerance” policy when companies attempt to circumvent the regulations.

“Workers’ compensation insurance is essential,” he said. “Just imagine if you are injured on the job without workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation protects you and your loved ones in case of such injuries, but what if you found out that your employer did not cover you. The workers’ only resort is to sue the employer, but there are no guarantees he will pay.”

Sabolic said the bottom line is that his department is going after employers who violate the law and put workers in jeopardy. He said such actions skirted the system and in the end costs other employers more.

He said that under the new provisions his department can assess penalties and that he will not hesitate to issue a stop-work order if the law has been violated. Sabolic said that, to their credit, legislators provided 35 additional state-wide investigators, which doubled the statewide investigative force to 71.

“You might think that is a lot, but in Florida there are between 500,000 to 1 million job sites, and that is the universe we and our brothers in the Division of Insurance Fraud work in,” Sabolic explained. “On those job sites we do not know if an employer has workers’ compensation or not until we go out there.”

Gov. Bush spearheaded reform

Gov. Jeb Bush formed a workers’ compensation reform committee to review the system. Their goal was to recommend ways to reduce workers’ compensation rates, increase affordability and availability and encourage more companies want to write coverage in Florida.

Eight months later, in January, 2003, the committee developed recommendations and solicited input to completed 45 pages of recommendations list to which they submitted to the Legislature, which adopted 75 to 80 percent of the recommendations.

“That was the most significant reform that Florida had experienced in 10 years,” Sabolic said.

Sabolic explained that the Florida Legislature approved changed in the workers’ compensation system in October, 2003 that gave the Bureau of Compliance the authority to monitor claims, authorize treatment and benefits and penalize anyone who broke the rules.

14 percent rate drop

“Prior to 2003 Florida had the highest workers’ compensation claims rate in the nation,” Sabolic explained. “In the year after the changes were made in the system, the annual rate for all employees dropped 14 percent, resulting in a $450 million in savings.”

Jan. 1, 2005, there was another overall decrease of 5 percent, and in 2005 the Office of Insurance Regulation approved another decrease of 13.5 percent which takes effect Jan. 1, 2006.

The Department of Financial Services now has an online database that lists businesses that have been issued stop-work orders. Sabolic advised everyone to check that list to make sure a company they are doing business with is not on that list.

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