Oklahomans should know more about House Bill 2046, the workers’ compensation reform measure being pushed by Lt. Governor Mary Fallin, than Republicans are telling them.
Senate Republican Leader Glenn Coffee and Senator Scott Pruitt are using gross generalities to mislead the public about the bill and the reasons Democrats oppose it in its current form, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charlie Laster said Friday.
“We are in favor of meaningful workers’ compensation reform but we’re not in favor of Senator Pruitt’s bill. If the public knew what was in it, they wouldn’t be in favor of it either,” Laster said.
For example, under current law a firefighter burned on the job would continue to receive treatment and benefits covered by his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance as long as he is receiving medical attention. Pruitt’s bill would mean that same firefighter would lose benefits going to pay household expenses after only six weeks.
“A worker who suffered a knee injury like the ones that sidelined OU quarterback Jason White for most of two football seasons, would only receive workers’ comp benefits for 12 weeks. We know from White’s example that it takes much longer than that to fully recover from knee surgery,” Laster said.
Laster said that he doubts Oklahomans would support provisions in the latest version of HB 2046 that eliminate an injured workers’ ability to choose their own physician.
“Under his bill, as it is now written, an employee injured on the job must be treated by a doctor hand-picked by his employer’s insurance company,” Laster said. “The employee has no opportunity to seek a second opinion from his own doctor of his choice.
“There’s absolutely no fairness in that.”
Oklahomans should also know, Laster said, that Pruitt’s plan is unfair to older workers.
“His bill makes no allowances for the fact that, because of their age, it might take them longer to heal. If it does, under Pruitt’s plan, any additional treatment for injuries sustained on the job won’t be covered under workers’ comp,” Laster said.
Laster said Pruitt’s insistence that his plan is the only one that will work, isn’t new.
Four years ago, Pruitt displayed the same unwillingness to compromise when he touted replacing Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system with an administrative system like the ones in Texas and Florida, Laster explained.
“Those systems turned out to be the most expensive in the nation. Oklahoma businesses are lucky the Legislature was wise enough to not adopt Pruitt’s first ‘cure-all’ scheme,” Laster said.
In the last two years, Pruitt has dumped the idea of an administrative system and has come up with a new scheme – or schemes, Laster said.
“His most recent version of House Bill 2046, the one he says we should adopt with no questions asked, is the third version he sought to pass in the two days prior to his decision to withdraw it from consideration,” Laster said.
“I can’t, as it is written at this point, ask my colleagues to support this measure in whole,” Laster said. “But I’m not asking that we throw out all of Senator Pruitt’s ideas.”
The Shawnee Democrat said he’d rather consider Pruitt’s suggestions as part of continuing negotiations so that a consensus can be reached about what will be best for the state.
“Maybe there are people who just know it all, but I continue to believe that we can find the best solution by sharing our ideas and working together on a plan that will benefit Oklahoma businesses and their workers rather than serving the political ambitions of a select few,” Laster said.