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
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. …