People generally don't care how something is done. They care about whether it works or not. Sometimes, though, how something is done is the important thing.
Sometimes, the process gets in people's way, makes things more complicated and more expensive than they should be. That's the case when it comes to Oklahoma's workers' compensation system. It doesn't work. It gets in people's way. It's unnecessarily complicated, and it costs a lot more than it should.
Workers' comp is insurance that employers buy in case someone is hurt on the job. It covers lost wages and medical expenses, and it isn't cheap. Oklahoma members of the National Federation of Independent Business tell us that one of their biggest concerns is the cost of workers' comp. Workers' comp premiums here are among the highest in the country, according to a 2012 survey by the Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services. Oklahoma ranked sixth on the list — well above any of our neighbors. New Mexico placed 27th on the list, while Missouri was 36th and Texas was 38th. Rates also are lower in Kansas, Colorado and Arkansas.
The reason our workers' comp premiums are so high is because of how we handle comp cases. Unlike our border states, we have a Workers' Compensation Court. Ten judges hear cases and approve settlements.
NFIB/Oklahoma urges the Legislature to vote “yes” on Senate Bill 1062. This legislation, called the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act, would change the process. It would replace our adversarial court-based system with an administrative system that's easier for both sides to navigate. Sponsors say their goal is to reduce premiums while ensuring that injured workers get quality care as quickly as possible. The current system does neither of those. What it does instead is reward lawyers, who collect higher fees for dragging cases out as long as possible.
The proposed legislative system is based on a similar system already in place in Arkansas, which ranked 49th on the state of Oregon's survey of average workers' compensation premium costs. Today, workers' comp cases in Oklahoma pit employees against their employers — or, rather, the employees' lawyers and medical experts against their employers' lawyers and medical experts.
Legislation that has cleared the Senate and is awaiting action in the House would resolve cases based on the merits of the case and objective medical evidence. This administrative system would be overseen by three commissioners, appointed by the governor and subject to Senate approval, serving staggered six-year terms.
The Administrative Workers' Compensation Act a represents a fresh approach that will help control costs for small businesses, which, in turn, will allow our small businesses to create jobs and grow the economy.
Shouse is state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.