Oklahoma House Speaker Hiett Workers' Compensation Plan May Carry $45M Bill

Article excerpt

The ombudsman program in House Bill 2046 would cost up to $45 million more for employers and insurance companies in Oklahoma, according to a report by two attorneys.

Though as of yet no one seems to know just how much the program would cost, state Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, said the program would not cost anywhere near the amount estimated by the attorneys' report. Morgan is shepherding the bill through the House.

Bob Burke is an attorney who primarily represents injured workers. During former Gov. David Boren's administration, Burke served as director of the state Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which is now called the Department of Commerce. Burke has also served as secretary of the state Industrial Development Commission, and as a member of Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin's Commission on Workers' Compensation Reform.

Tim Cooley is an attorney who primarily represents employers and insurance companies. He served on both the Fallin Commission on Workers' Compensation Reform and Gov. Brad Henry's Task Force on Workers' Compensation.

Burke and Cooley's analysis of HB 2046, by House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, states that the ombudsman program it details would not replace the Workers' Compensation Court, but would only serve to add two more levels of bureaucracy to the current system.

HB 2046 would create an ombudsman program within the state Insurance Department, to be coordinated and directed by the insurance commissioner. The stated purpose of the program is to assist injured employees in the coordination and receipt of benefits, to assist employers in the delivery of benefits, medical or otherwise, to an injured employee and to assist in the resolution of conflicts relating to medical treatment, ability to return to work, or compensation.

Once an employer files a notice of injury, an ombudsman would contact both the employer and employee and notify both parties of their rights and duties. All injured employees who do not settle with their employer would have to exhaust the remedies provided in the ombudsman program - which includes mediation - before they could take their dispute to Workers' Compensation Court.

The ombudsman program would be a bonanza for lawyers and incredibly expensive for taxpayers, creating a new industry within state government, reads Burke and Cooley's report. Informing all injured workers of their rights might actually prompt more employees to seek the aid of an attorney, according to the report.

Annually, about 60,000 Form 2s, or injury notices, are filed by the employer at both the Insurance Department and the Workers' Compensation Court each year, according to the report. …