Tulsa / Oklahoma City – At press conferences in Tulsa and Oklahoma City today, legislative Republicans unveiled the details of legislation to reform Oklahoma’s workers compensation system, renowned as one of the most expensive in the nation.
The bill, authored by Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, will result in a minimum savings of $100 million for state employers according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance. The bill does not decrease benefits to employees, but instead seeks to eliminate unnecessary litigation.
At the State Capitol in Oklahoma City, Pruitt said, “Oklahoma has some of the highest workers compensation insurance rates in the nation, largely because our system involves attorneys almost three times more than the average state. Oklahoma’s high workers compensation costs hurt existing Oklahoma employers and make it difficult to attract new employers to our state.”
At the Tulsa Press Club, Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, stated, “The time has truly come to make major changes to Oklahoma’s worker’s compensation system. Our current system is very detrimental to businesses and tremendously hinders our economic growth. That must change. This bill will institute several reforms that create a more equitable system to all parties involved.
“Businesses across Oklahoma are crying out for reform. Doing nothing will result in Oklahoma falling further and further behind in the race for jobs and economic development. This legislation will tremendously help Oklahoma and that’s my focus,” he said.
Republicans called on Gov. Brad Henry to support the common sense reforms.
“We hope Gov. Henry joins us in calling for action in this area, and does not call for yet another study on the issue. But while politicians study, attorneys continue to get rich and businesses continue to die or move out of the state. We’re calling on Gov. Henry to lead, and join us in doing what is right for the people of Oklahoma,” Pruitt said.
A significant factor in Oklahoma's high workers compensation costs is above-average attorney involvement in workers compensation cases. The Pruitt-Peterson bill limits attorney involvement by instituting value added fees, meaning attorneys only get paid from the amount they obtain for their client above the settlement offered by the employer.
The bill also eliminates Oklahoma’s current "dueling docs" scenarios by giving deference to the actual treating doctor in the rating process. Oklahoma’s dueling docs provisions have historically cost Oklahoma workers significantly in terms of time and lost production.
Oklahoma’s workers compensation costs are the 11th-highest in the country, according to the Small Business Survival Committee, a national small business advocacy group. A recent, highly-touted study by a corporate site location expert, Pollina Corporate Real Estate, ranked Oklahoma as a top ten business state, but stated Oklahoma’s expensive workers compensation system is one of the state’s biggest negatives in attracting new employers. The Pollina report also showed that the state of Washington, which recently beat Oklahoma in a competition for a new Boeing manufacturing facility, offers workers comp rates that are nearly 71 percent lower than Oklahoma’s rates. And of the Oklahoma’s six bordering states, five had lower workers comp rates, the report stated.
Prominent Provisions of the Pruitt-Peterson Workers Compensation Reform Legislation
- Certified Workplace Medical Plans (CWMPs): A CWMP is an organization of health care providers (or any other entity) that is authorized to enter into a contractual agreement with an employer or insurance carrier to provide medical care under the Workers Compensation Act. The statutory requirement for enrollment will be deleted in its entirety. No enrollment will be necessary as contrasted with an open enrollment process. All CompSource Oklahoma covered employers will be required to utilize a CWMP.
- Medical costs will be reduced by making CWMPs more available in the marketplace and by providing enhanced employer choice of physician.
- In adjudicating disputes, only 2 medical opinions will be offered in resolution of a dispute ---- namely, the Treating Physician’s opinion and a 2nd opinion by the employer, if necessary. A Judge or equivalent may choose one of the two opinions or split the difference in adjudicating a dispute.
- Mandatory Mediation before the filing of a Form 3, except in cases of employer denial.
- Attorney fees shall be assessed only against the amount in dispute. (Value Added fees).
- An evidentiary requirement that a finding of an objective manifestation of injury (Daubert standard) is required in soft tissue, cumulative trauma, etc. cases.
- Lump sum awards will not be permitted in the category of soft tissue, cumulative trauma, etc. cases. Lump sum settlements in such cases shall be allowed.
- Authorize and permit video-conferencing for the adjudication of claims to occur exclusively at Career Technology centers via ONE-NET or equivalent. The Court possesses the option of either conducting sessions of the Court in the venue of the dispute or by videoconference only. In either event, the venue of all claims shall be in the County in which the injury or claim arose. When video-conferencing is implemented, all attorneys shall appear in person with their respective client by videoconference. Attorneys for Respondent may appear by videoconference in the most accessible Career Technology center.
- Permanent partial disability in non-surgical cases shall only be allowed where there is “objective evidence of a permanent anatomical abnormality, and there is evidence that the ability of the employee to earn wages at the same level as on the date of injury is adversely impaired.”