Oklahoma workers' comp bill heads to Gov. Mary Fallin

A bill that would dramatically change how Oklahoma employees are compensated for on-the-job injuries won Senate approval Tuesday. Senate Bill 1062 is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin later this week or next.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: April 30, 2013

Almost 98 percent of surface cost savings associated with the proposed changes come in the form of reductions in either the amount paid to injured employees or the duration that such compensation can be collected, according to an analysis by National Council on Compensation Insurance.

“This bill literally adds insult to injury,” said Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman.

Others said they were concerned the proposal won't hold up in the courts.

Michael Carter, a 2011 Fallin appointee to the advisory board that oversees the workers' comp court system, said a number of concerns lodged by the board were ignored by lawmakers.

The board voted to oppose the bill in its initial Senate form not for its policy changes but because it does not address funding mechanisms for the court that will continue to hear existing claims, among other reasons, said Carter, board chairman.

The board did not vote on the amended version of the bill, as presented by the House, he said.

“But none of the amendments that were passed in the House really changed anything,” Carter said. “It's an incredibly badly drafted bill, and because of the poor draftsmanship, it scuttles the chance for the policy in it to ever be implemented.”

Becky Robinson, senior executive for risk management at Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby, said the comp changes ultimately will benefit workers by getting them healed and back to work without the slow nightmare of the current bureaucracy.

After withdrawing from the Texas workers' comp system in 2004, Hobby Lobby wiped out about $46,000 in annual litigation costs, reduced average claims costs to about a third of those in Oklahoma, and reduced disputes from six a year to only four in the past decade, Robinson said.

Hobby Lobby now negotiates directly with its injured workers' and the doctors who examine and treat them, she said.

The new law should mean the same types of improvements in Oklahoma, she said.

“As a result, Oklahoma workers will be protected, there will be fewer lawsuits and costs will go down,” she said.