AFTER decades of tinkering around the edges with Oklahoma's workers' compensation system, lawmakers this year retooled it entirely. It's a move that will benefit the state in the long term, and Gov. Mary Fallin should sign the bill without delay.
Our court-based system has been broken for too long, driving up the cost of doing business in Oklahoma. That can't be understated — small businesses in particular, the backbone of the state's economy, are hurt by seeing their workers' comp rates increase every year even when they have no claims filed against them.
Indeed Oklahoma's rates are sixth-highest in the country according to a biennial study by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. Employers in this state pay out close to $1 billion per year in premiums and premium equivalents in the current system. And although the number of claims filed has decreased in the past several years, the average awards have nearly tripled.
The stories are legion of workers being granted large judgments for dubious injuries, all the while enriching the attorneys who practice before the court. Those attorneys will continue to make a good living. However instead of a workers' compensation courtroom, claims will be filed before a three-member administrative body, similar to what is done by all but a few states.
Employers will have the ability to opt out of the new system, which had opponents of the bill concerned. However companies that do opt out must provide the same forms of benefits mandated by the administrative system. So employees in those companies will be covered.
Opponents also said injured workers would be the biggest losers in this change, but the same argument has been made every time workers' compensation reform has been brought to the table. This bill does change the way workers will be compensated, and for how long, while off the job.
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