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Oklahoma comp reforms probably as bills flood legislators



The Oklahoma legislature convened its last meeting on Monday with 25-year-old workers' compensation bills on its Tuesday sign, which led observers to note.

It is a sign, experts say that some changes are to the state's comp system is likely – but that a comprehensive review like the one issued in 2014 is not in the cards.

"We are obviously very concerned about changes in the system … but we understand that there will be tweaks to the system," says Fred Morgan, President and CEO of the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, commenting on the number of bills.

"There are many bills," says Bob Burke, an Oklahoma City-based lawyer who represents injured workers and former state trade secretaries who previously helped to draft legislation.

"Most of these bills are scale bills," he said, referring to bills introduced with a later goal to change the language with more substantive changes. Nothing is likely to pass as-is, he added.

On the table are bills that address cash benefits for injured workers, compensation for workers using marijuana without a medical marijuana card, post-traumatic stress disorder benefits for first responders, balance restrictions on state self-insurance guarantee fund, medical plan provider plans, and more. Some bills focus on administrative changes, such as changes to definitions under state comp laws.

There is likely to be "nothing that is not an agreement (and) negotiated bill" that addresses competing political agendas to improve the benefits of injured workers and to protect business interests, says Joe Woods, Austin, Texas-based Vice President of State Relations for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

And with the volume of bills and months of negotiations ahead "there is a good chance that no major work compensation will pass in Oklahoma," said Mr. Woods.

However, some of the measures would solve problems with reforms made in 201

4, according to Mr Burke.

Increasing payments to both injured workers and suppliers – benefits and costs revised in 2014 – are likely, experts said.

"It's something we need to look at," says Mr. Morgan and warn that the fees are increasing weighed in 2018 with the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission which stated that "no increase was necessary".

Increase in compensation payments for injured workers, which reforms decreased by 36.4% between 2012 and 2016 according to data compiled in 2018 by the Washington-based National Academy of Social Insurance, is also proposed.

Legislation in 2014 has given Oklahoma the lowest employment skills in the country, and there is indeed a hope that at least it would be a reasonable increase (but not near) to the level where they were, "said Mr. Burke, adding that he would like to see an increase in cash benefits by 15% to 20%.

Another issue to be addressed is the extension of the "Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court of Existing Claims", which handles claims from damages filed before the 2014 reforms, so The lawyer at that time authorized the court to hear old stock language before approaching July 1, 2020. [SincetheSupremeCourtofOklahomaunanimouslydeterminedthatthenewworkcompensationmaynoteverhavejurisdictionforoldlawrequirements"Thisdeadlineisdueonanextensionof"atleasteightyears"saysMrBurkewhoestimatesthatthereisabacklogofabout78000openfilesofold-fashionedaffairs

"Until these claims are gone, the (old court) must exist," he said.

                    


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