OK Lawmakers To Consider Workers' Comp Reform Proposals

Oklahoma City, OK (CompNewsNetwork) - Workers' compensation reform proposals will be subjected to legislative scrutiny through a House study requested by state Rep. Mark McCullough, among others.

McCullough, who has authored several reform measures in recent years, said the study will allow lawmakers the chance to review proposals in a methodical way.

"There's no doubt Oklahoma's workers compensation system fails both employees and employers," said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. "The high-cost-low-benefit structure of our system is a barrier to economic growth that must be knocked down."

House Speaker Chris Benge recently announced approval of 120 interim studies that will be conducted over the summer and fall prior to the next legislative session.

The workers compensation study will be conducted by the House Economic Development Committee. The study is a combined effort also involving state Rep. Dan Sullivan, a Tulsa Republican who chairs the Economic Development Committee and author of this year's sweeping lawsuit reform law.

This year, McCullough filed legislation to dismantle Oklahoma's lawsuit-based Workers' Compensation Court and replace it with an administrative system headed by a three-member Workers' Compensation Commission, which would replace the current Workers' Compensation Court.

The bill would have also established a Vocational Rehabilitation program to help return employees to their prior working capabilities.

McCullough said the interim study will allow a more thorough public vetting of the proposal.

"The study gives all involved parties greater opportunity to review proposed reforms, helping identify potential problems and eliminating them before we have to vote on actual legislation," McCullough said. "I believe there is growing momentum for reform in Oklahoma and this is a good opportunity to bring all parties to the table."

In addition, he said a working group has been meeting weekly since February and has been going over the proposal "line by line" in an effort to create an entirely new system full of "every improvement and best practice we identify."

McCullough noted that attorney involvement is 50 percent higher in Oklahoma's workers' comp system than the national average, which helps explain why Oklahoma experienced the highest payout for claims in 18 years in 2006 - $270 million, a 69 percent increase since 2000.

Past research has shown that the rate of permanent partial disability payments (PPDs) in Oklahoma is almost twice the regional average and the average lost-time claim frequency is also 60 percent higher than the national average.

McCullough said any reform measure advanced needs to provide greater medical benefit to injured workers – a goal he said is also compatible with driving down insurance rates.

"The point of this reform effort should be to create policies that help people return to work instead of staying off the job for long periods of time to fight over disability ratings," McCullough said. "We have an opportunity to make Oklahoma a more attractive place to do business and a state that takes care of its injured workers."

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