Our current system makes employers and employees adversaries while impairing the rehabilitation of injured workers, burdening families and placing a heavy drag on Oklahoma’s economy and productivity. Ours is a system where everyone loses: the employers, the taxpayers and, most importantly, the injured workers themelves.
For example, our system devotes more resources to litigation and operation of the system than it does to medical benefits, putting them in worse shape than similarly situated workers in neighboring states and even worse than the national averages for those numbers.
Only one other state, Tennessee, handles claims in an adversarial system like Oklahoma’s, and their governor is leading an effort to replace it.
Simply put, it does not make sense that Oklahoma has one of the lowest costs of living yet has some of the highest workers’ compensation premiums in the country. Those high costs are due to the fact that our system is too litigious and unfairly incentivizes litigation.
In the meantime, it produces counterproductive results and makes returning to work more difficult. The system is actually working against the people it was meant to serve.
Truly reforming this broken system means creating an administrative process for resolving workers’ compensation injuries. It also must include options for all employers, allowing them to utilize fully insured or self-insured options to help maximize resources, all while ensuring fair and proper benefits to employees.
We must also restructure permanent partial disability and other benefit awards to encourage proper compensation for injuries and incentivize productive returns to work, especially since Oklahoma’s permanent partial disability awards are higher than regional and national averages. True reform will make the state a premier competitor for the expansion and creation of both manufacturing and other employment.
Our workers’ comp system puts us at a significant disadvantage when it comes to expanding our economy, creating jobs and providing opportunity for Oklahoma families. We need a system that encourages the collaboration of employers and employees, makes sure injured employees are compensated and rehabilitated, helps families by protecting their breadwinners and their time and offers a chance for an economic boom to the state. By freeing up the economic resources shackled under the current system, we could see businesses increase wages, add new jobs, or both.
This could well be a game changer for Oklahoma, given the current expense of nearly $1 billion on workers’ compensation premiums paid by Oklahoma businesses. Add to that hundreds of thousands of hours lost in productivity and the burden to families. By changing the system that produces those costs, these reforms potentially could have the same economic impact as a major tax cut.
It’s past time to replace our broken workers’ compensation system, and policy reforms like these provide the game-changing advantage Oklahoma needs.
Small, a certified public accountant, is fiscal policy director of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank.