Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

House Passes Bill Aimed at Cutting Insurance Costs / Workers' Compensation

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

House Passes Bill Aimed at Cutting Insurance Costs / Workers' Compensation

Article excerpt

A bill designed to cut the cost of workers' compensation insurance Tuesday passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

The vote was 93-0.

A medical fee schedule is one of the bill's provisions aimed at reversing the trend toward high workers' compensation insurance premiums in Oklahoma, where rates are among the highest in the region.

The medical fee schedule would be devised by a five-member Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission, a proposed new entity with members representing employers, workers and consumers.

"This won't cut rates overnight, but we believe it will help," said Rep. E.C. "Sandy" Sanders, D-Oklahoma City, the bill's author.

There was no debate on the 88-page committee substitute for House Bill No. 2053.

However, Rep. Nelson "Freckles" Little, R-Tulsa, succeeded in amending the bill to prevent legislators who also are workers' compensation lawyers from practicing before the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court.

That irritated Sanders.

"If you're going to close the loophole, Freckles, close it up real tight," Sanders said.

"Change it so the entire law firm can't practice before the court. Otherwise, the legislator will just have his law partner do all the work, and he'll still collect the money," Sanders said.

That conflict-of-interest amendment would apply to Rep. Mike Lawter, D-Oklahoma City, and other legislators whose law practices are based on representing injured workers or employers before the state Workers' Compensation Court.

It is speculated the Oklahoma Senate will delete Little's amendment.

The Senate also is expected to rewrite Sanders' bill considerably.

Final workers' compensation law this year is likely to be written by a House-Senate conference committee, based on proposals outlined in Sanders' bill and a measure by Sen. Marvin York, D-Oklahoma City.

Business interests prefer Sanders' bill, according to Dean Schirf, state Capitol lobbyist for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

"We've had more input on Sandy's bill than we did on Marvin's," Schirf said.

Business owners testified at length last fall about how to resolve some problems with workers' compensation insurance, in hearings before an interim study committee, which Sanders chaired. …

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