Claremore Daily Progress

State/Nation

February 25, 2013

Workers’ comp overhaul hailed by Okla. GOP leaders

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

Burke said the bill specifically cuts both permanent partial disability benefits and temporary total disability payments, as well as awards for amputations and death benefits for surviving spouses.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, the Senate sponsor of the bill, didn’t deny thatbenefits to injured workers will be cut, but said the move to an administrative system will help streamline the process and make sure workers get the medical treatment they need.
“We want to make sure they get immediate medical attention and get them back to work as soon as possible, whereas the current system drags things out so workers actually get paid more money for not working, and it’s stretched out for a long period of time,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa, “That makes the whole system very expensive for the people who pay the bills — the employers — and the cost for their insurance goes up.”
Burke said the bill seeks to cut attorneys out of the system, something he calls “un-American.”
“I believe that’s their goal here,” Burke said. “If you appear on either side, you ought to have the right to have a lawyer.”
Mike Seney, senior vice president at The State Chamber, an association of Oklahoma businesses and industries that has helped draft the plan, acknowledges that limiting the role attorneys play in the workers’ compensation system will be a good move that could actually increase the amount of money injured workers receive.
“I don’t have any problem at all with taking the lawyers out of the equation totally,” Seney said.
Supporters of the overhaul point to a 2011 study by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services that ranked Oklahoma as having the fourth highest workers’ compensation insurance rates in the country.
But Burke claims the study, which uses 2010 data, was completed before several major changes to the medical reimbursement rates in Oklahoma were made in 2011 that drove down costs. He also said state-by-state comparisons are flawed because of different industries that operate in various states.

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