A workers compensation reform package aimed at saving up to
$67.5 million in Oklahoma's system was announced Friday by Gov.
"This is not a `kill-the-lawyers' deal," he said, noting that
the package was structured to cut costs while preserving benefits
to injured workers.
"I hope reason carries the day," Walters said.
"If Oklahoma is to continue to be in the position of competing
for new industry and jobs, we must continue to try and hold the
line in all associated business costs, especially workers
compensation insurance costs."
The legislation, to be carried by Sen. Don Williams, D-Balko,
and House Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Glover, D-Elgin, was crafted
with input from three study groups appointed by the governor.
They dealt with medical cost containment, job safety and training
and vocational rehabilitation.
Walters has proposed a 10-point plan, as follows:
Establish a state-run occupational safety and health consultation
and enforcement program, fund it by reducing the legal liability
of the Special Indemnity Fund and dedicate 30 percent of the
revenue to support the new program.
Walters said this amounts to state takeover of
responsibilities now performed by the federal Occupational Safety
and Health Administration. So, the state would lose some federal
matching money it now receives. This proposal is estimated to
cost $3.5 million.
The Special Indemnity Fund, an arm of the State Insurance
Fund, covers employers who hire previously injured employees. If
the employee is injured again, it protects the employer from
paying for both the former and current injuries.
The Special Indemnity Fund's purpose was to give an incentive
for employers to hire people with pre-existing disabilities. The
Walters plan claims that the newly enacted Americans with
Disabilities Act should meet those needs.
Under the Walters plan, permanent partial disability benefits
would no longer be covered by the indemnity fund. "By limiting
eligibility for Special Indemnity Fund benefits to only those
seriously injured persons who are permanently and totally
disabled, portions of revenue from the tax will be free to
divert" to pay for a state OSHA program, according to a
background paper on the governor's legislation.
Establish a physician advisory committee under the Workers
Compensation Court, to scrutinize medical treatment and the
evaluation of workers compensation injuries.
Before permanent disability awards were made, the court would be
required to consider the potential for vocational rehabilitation
of the injured worker. Workers would get paid during the training
Establish a Workers Compensation Court of Appeals. …