Workers compensation reforms proposed by Governor Brad Henry passed through the Oklahoma State Senate Wednesday afternoon on a straight party-line vote.
With Democrats backing the Governor’s proposal and Republicans voting in opposition, Senate Bill 846 was approved on a 25-21 vote.
“This legislation will save money for Oklahoma businesses, protect the rights of injured workers and provide a boost to Oklahoma’s economy,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charlie Laster, author of the measure
Laster, D-Shawnee, said the bill is the result of months of work by a bi-partisan task force.
“This is the only bill introduced this year that gets at the heart of the biggest cost factor in workers compensation cases – the rapidly rising price of health care,” Laster said.
Health care accounts for 54 percent of the costs of workers compensation claims, he said. SB 846 reduces the medical fee schedule for surgeries related to on-the-job injuries to 175 percent of the federal reimbursement rate for Medicare and 130 percent of the Medicare rate for all other procedures, said Laster, D-Shawnee.
Additionally, he said, SB 846 addresses the issue of “dueling doctors” while protecting the right of an injured workers to seek a second opinion from a doctor their choice if their employer selected the initial treating physician.
SB 846 allows the Workers’ Compensation Court to order mediation on a disputed claim if either side requests it or if the Court think it is necessary.
The measure also increases funding for safety programs at the Oklahoma Department of Labor, CareerTech and the Workers Compensation Court and increases funeral, death and disfigurement benefits for injured workers, Laster said.
The measure also makes Form 2s, the first notification of an on-the-job injury, confidential, protecting the privacy of injured workers and preventing attorneys from using open records to seek potential clients.
“The legislation is the result of months of work by a bi-partisan task force and I believe it offers beneficial reforms for our state’s system of compensating workers injured on the job,” Laster said.