Get your popcorn, as this years featured contest for workers’ compensation reform promises to be a doozy. The Oklahoma legislature is coming back to town, and workers’ compensation seems to be a high priority on its list of things to fix (again). 

Last year Oklahoma garnered a great deal of attention by seriously considering, and almost passing, laws that would create only the second state in the nation where employers could opt out of workers’ comp. Ultimately the effort failed, as the state opted out on opting out, leaving Texas as the only state where out is “in”, if you know what I mean.

Experts agree that opt out will definitely return for consideration this year, along with an attempt to change the entire system from that of a judicially based one to an administrative one. Critics of the current system say that it is inefficient and expensive, dragging cases out far longer than necessary and creating a hostile environment for business creation in the state. 

However, critics of the critics (and let’s be honest here, there are always critics of the critics) say that such change is problematic. House Minority Leader Scott Inman says that “A workers’ compensation claim takes about three years to complete and some can be reopened 10 years later. If an administrative system is enacted, the current judicial system would have to remain in place to take care of those claims.” 

I see. Makes perfect sense.

Way to convince us that the current system works well. Apparently a system that is slow, inefficient and expensive cannot be fully replaced because it is slow, inefficient and expensive.

Inman also points out that the state passed reforms two years ago that have barely taken effect, saying “If you’re going to pass any reforms, you’ve got to give it a number of years before those reforms materialize into lower rates. Our position is we want to invest and wait and see what happens with those reforms.” I suppose I could concede that point, as tradition calls for giving reforms ample time to fail before reformers have to reform previous reformers reforms. 

And to be honest, reforms ultimately fail as often as they succeed. Just ask the people who are already starting to bail water on California’s SB863. I suppose critics (critics of the current system, not critics of the critics of the current system) could say that those reforms were not nearly enough, and the problems the state faces lie within the judicial structure itself. 

I suspect that the reformers have the upper hand, and that we will see significant changes in Oklahoma this year. Legislative leaders there are concerned about business opting out of the state altogether, and are likely to take the steps they deem necessary to prevent that from happening. If I were a gambling man, I would take the reformers by 7.

Either way, with its potential for radical system change as well as groundbreaking opt out provisions, this workers’ comp game will certainly be the one to watch this year.


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