That issue of due process was resolved by the United States Supreme Court in 1917 when in New York Central Railway Co. v. White it was held that an employer’s constitutional rights weren't affected. After the ruling most states enacted new compulsory workers’ compensation laws, requiring businesses to pay the premiums.
Rest assured those mandated premium costs were passed onto the customers in the form of a price increase. Businesses don’t pay taxes, consumers pay taxes. Companies don’t want to do business in a state where the workers comp premiums and system put them at a competitive disadvantage.
For years Oklahoma’s workers compensation program had among the highest premiums for businesses and some of the lowest payouts to injured workers in the country. According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, Oklahoma ranked 14th in the nation for largest increase in total workers’ compensation benefits paid out from 1999 to 2008. During the nine year period, Oklahoma had a dramatic 68.11 percent increase in benefits paid, despite fewer workplace injuries and illnesses in the state.
Because the trial lawyer lobby in Oklahoma was so powerful, it appeared no meaningful workers comp reform would ever happen in Oklahoma, but this year, the legislature may have slipped one by the lawyers.
Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) and Representative Dan Sullivan, (R-Tulsa) are the authors of SB 878, a workers comp bill that passed the Senate 48-0 last week with no debate. It passed the House 88-8 and now goes to the Governor Fallin where it is expected to be signed into law. Workers compensation reform is one of Governor Fallin’s priority agenda items.
Back in March when asked about workers comp, Fallin said, “Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system is one of the most expensive, least efficient systems of its kind in the nation. It represents a real obstacle to business recruitment and retention and drives jobs out of state. Our plan creates a system that is fair to both workers and employers, lowers costs and helps us in our mission of creating a better environment for business growth and job creation in Oklahoma.”
Senator Sykes says SB #878 will not take benefits away from injured workers, but outlines a better way to handle workers compensation. The bill has whopping eighty-seven sections. Here are some of the tenets of SB #878:
It requires Oklahoma Workers Compensation Courts to require adoption of official disability guidelines, reduce the maximum time an individual can draw temporary total disability from 300 weeks to 156 weeks, allow for vocational rehab to start even while an injured worker is still on temporary disability and reduces the medical costs for medical providers to the Medicare fee schedule.
It will also change the definition of permanent total disability by requiring that an injured worker prove that permanent disabilities actually prevent them from gainful employment.
Another provision requires that treatment plans for injured workers follow nationally recognized standards. Another provision requires that doctors making recommendations on a worker’s disability be specialists on the injuries they’re diagnosing.