The House Judiciary Committee this week approved workers' compensation legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa), but didn’t get in any hurry about it.
The novel-length bill that would move the decision on how to compensate injured workers from a court-based system to an administrative one is another step closer to being law. The hearing on the bill was delayed by two weeks while the House made changes to fix some problems in the plan.
Democrats on the committee continued to push at flaws they see in the legislation, including the high cost of care. State Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) asked about the medical costs of workers compensation, and the high costs employers pay on premiums.
“Two years ago we had the best thing since sliced bread on workers' comp reform that addressed medical costs,” Virgin says. “But this version doesn’t lower medical costs in my opinion, so how do you reconcile that with saying a switch to an administrative law system would save money if the medical costs are going to be substantially the same?”
State Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) supports the workers’ compensation changes.
“One of those changes we made is looking specifically at health outcomes for injured workers,” Echols says. “We also have a rate structure set in place that will be set by the commission, but then will be approved by the legislature, pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act.”
One of House Minority Leader Scott Inman’s (D-Del City) concerns is that a provision of the bill would allow businesses to not participate in the state system. He says that would reduce the pool and raise the cost. State Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City) told the committee members they shouldn’t vote for the bill unless they understood it.
“This bill is morally reprehensible, disgusting verbiage,” Morrissette says.
Committee chair State Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang) called time while Morrissette finished his thought. She said Oklahoma can do better by its workers and businesses with the new administrative system.
“This bill is a better system for injured workers,” Osborn says. “Consistently, when you look at Maximum Medical Improvement results, our workers that have gone through our current workers' comp system score that they have a ‘D’ improvement – a ‘D’ medical outcome – on how they are treated under the current system.”
Inman says the bill remains troubled, despite assurances that it is constitutional.
“The savings aren’t realized in switching from one system to another,” Inman says. “Everybody understands the administrative system is nothing but a Trojan Horse to do one thing, and that is to reduce benefits for people who have been injured on the job at no cost and no fault of their own. That’s all this does.”
Echols wrapped up the debate on the workers’ compensation bill saying the state needs to change.
“The worker still has a right to an advocate,” Echols says. “The bottom line is the numbers speak for themselves. Sixth-highest in the nation is not good enough.”
While the House Committee approved the bill, it still has several steps to take before moving ahead. The full House must consider the bill by April 25th for it to remain alive.