For most Oklahomans, workers' compensation costs have been a recurring state problem throughout living memory. The need for reform has been a constant refrain, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans have controlled state government, but the reforms advanced inevitably did little to improve things.
A new report shows nothing has changed in that regard.
The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services' biennial study ranks workers' comp rates in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. According to this year's report, Oklahoma businesses face the sixth-highest premiums in the nation.
That's a huge impediment to economic growth that can offset factors otherwise making our state an attractive place to do business. That was reflected in the responses of more than 5,000 employers participating in Gov. Mary Fallin's “Fallin for Business” 2012 survey. Oklahoma's workers' compensation system was cited as the No. 1 challenge to doing business in the state.
And workers' comp premiums are expected to increase again in 2013.
We've noted before that these continuing problems suggest major overhaul may be required. The state Supreme Court's very broad interpretation of two constitutional provisions has meant the Legislature can set legal causes of action, but not parameters for adjudication. Past reform efforts have often been struck down or dramatically weakened due to those restrictions.
Tinkering at the edges of the system has had negligible impact; a restructuring of the entire system may be necessary. That's why policymakers are reportedly considering a plan to transform workers' comp into an administrative system next year, which would largely take the issue out of the courtroom and avoid the constitutional problems of past reforms.
The Oregon report makes clear the status quo isn't acceptable. If Oklahoma lawmakers truly want to help workers, they must enact workers' compensation reforms that make it easier for employers to create jobs.