Oklahoma workers' comp bill 'unworkable' as written, advisory board says

The advisory board appointed to oversee Oklahoma's workers' compensation court said they don't necessarily disagree with the policy changes in Senate Bill 1062, but language problems left uncorrected could create chaos.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: March 7, 2013 at 7:47 pm •  Published: March 8, 2013

Legislation that would change how Oklahoma's injured employees are compensated for their medical costs and missed time at work is necessary, but not in the way it is currently proposed.

That was the overwhelming opinion Thursday of members of the advisory board that oversees the state's current workers' compensation court.

With an 8-1 vote, the board criticized Senate Bill 1062 as it is currently written and asked state legislators to take another look.

“It seems to me that if you were in favor of all of the policy provisions in the bill that the actual mechanics of the bill are not the way we would ever go about accomplishing this,” said Michael Carter, board chairman, who called the bill “unworkable” in its current form.

The thrust of the bill is that the current court-based system would be replaced with an administrative one and that systemwide costs would be reined in by reducing benefits available to injured workers.

The bill, which was approved last week by the full Senate and is now headed to the House, also allows for employers to opt out of the workers' compensation system altogether and provide their own form of coverage instead.

The policy tenets of the proposed bill were not in the spotlight at Thursday's advisory board meeting; instead the focus was on language.

Among the board's complaints:

• There is no language that outlines fraud rules and penalties for compensation payers, employers and carriers.

• Contradictory language both repeals the current law, Title 85, but also provides for the court-based system to continue for three years until claims filed before the new law are complete.

• There would be significant gaps between the abolishment of the court system and the establishment of the administrative one, meaning claims could sit idle for weeks or months.

• The proposed legislation does not provide for the intensive treatment guidelines for physicians that is included in the current law.

The advisory board is comprised of nine people, appointed equally by the governor's office, the Senate president pro tem and the speaker of the House.

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