Several WC Reforms Pass OK House Committee

                               Oklahoma City, OK (CompNewsNetwork) - Legislation overhauling Oklahoma's workers' compensation system passed House committee today.

Several bills, including House Bill 1611, House Bill 2650, House Bill 2652, House Bill 2658, House Bill 2659 and House Bill 2662, all seek to reform the workers' comp system in an effort to bring costs under control all while protecting workers. All six bills passed the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee today.

The bills are still a work in progress, said Rep. Dan Sullivan, the author of the six measures.

"We know our workers' compensation system is broken, and we are currently working with all the interested parties to find an equitable solution that will work to reign in costs on Oklahoma businesses while ensuring workers have access to the medical care needed to get them back to work," said Sullivan, R-Tulsa, who has sought changes to the court in the past and chaired an interim study on the issue last year. "Our goal is to protect workers, shore up the system, eliminate fraud, and reduce costs."

The legislation seeks to significantly improve employee benefits and lower business expenses, making Oklahoma more attractive to new industry. There is currently deep dissatisfaction with the workers comp system, which is plagued by fraud and high costs and rarely produces consistently fair and equitable results.

Despite the fact that the benefits specified in state law are comparable to work comp benefits in other states, the actual cost of those benefits in Oklahoma is the most expensive in the nation.

"Our system is currently a job killer in our state," said Sullivan. "These reforms are needed to put additional safeguards in place for workers and to show employers that Oklahoma in open for business."

Some of the reforms being sought will include defining the term "surgery" for purposes of compensation, strengthening the value-added attorney fee provision and capping the time for temporary total disability. A reduction in the number of workers comp judges may also be considered, coupled with a more equitable distribution of judges between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

"Workers' compensation reform is one of our top priorities this session," said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "Especially in this budget climate, we must do all we can to encourage economic development in our state. These reforms give us the opportunity to reduce costs while streamlining the system for injured workers."

House Bill 2662 also passed committee today, which seeks to privatize Comp Source Oklahoma. Like the changes to the workers' compensation, this legislation is still a work in progress, Sullivan said.

"We are keeping an open mind when it comes to the options available to us related to Comp Source," said Sullivan. "This is an issue we have studied at length, and will continue to do so as we work to determine the best way to proceed. The issue of ownership is yet to be resolved and will need to be decided by the court. This bill is a tool to get the ownership question answered."

The bills will next be heard before the full House of Representatives. 

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