Fraud only one problem with Oklahoma workers' comp system

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: March 7, 2013

STORIES such as those highlighted Sunday in The Oklahoman regarding fraud in the state workers' compensation system offer more examples of why wholesale changes to the system are needed.

But they're only small examples, because many experts we've talked to through the years have said the same thing — fraud adds to the workers' comp system's overall costs, and it's a problem that needs to be addressed. But it's not the biggest problem.

The greater problem is the inherently litigious nature of our current system, one in which cases are drawn out for months and sometimes years, involving doctors on both sides and attorneys on both sides and insurance companies, and finally judges who are left to make awards based on the data and claims brought before them.

The size of those awards all too often relates to whether that judge was appointed by a Republican governor or a Democratic governor. Those named to the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court by GOP governors issue lesser judgments, generally speaking, than those named by Democrats. “That's just the way it has always been,” one longtime workers' comp attorney said recently.

And awards overall have gone up significantly during the past 15 years, even as the number of claims filed during that time has gone down significantly. So something is out of whack.

The fraud component is certainly distressing. The Oklahoman's Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis reported that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office has filed more than 50 workers' comp fraud cases in the past three years. Pruitt vows to pursue more. “No fraud is too small,” he said.

Prosecuting those who cheat — workers, employers and attorneys have all been accused — should be a priority. The money lost to fraud contributes to Oklahoma having the sixth-highest workers' comp rates in the nation. These costs are a tremendous burden to businesses, particularly small businesses. They hurt the state's cause when we try to recruit new business.

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