Last year, I coauthored Senate Bill 1062, which was signed into law and went into effect this month on July 1 . The new law created an administrative workers compensation system based on the highly successful Arkansas model.
This month, the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court of Existing Claims began operating as independent agencies. We’re working to get away from the old, ineffective court-based workers’ comp system and moving to the more cost-effective administrative system. The old judicial system will slowly be phased out as cases filed before Feb. 1 are wrapped up.
It was imperative that we approve this law last year as it was one of the most pro-business pieces of legislation in our state’s history. Business owners were pleading with us to get rid of the old workers’ comp system as it was one of the biggest inhibitors to job growth in our state.
We were one of the only states left in the nation using a judicial workers’ comp system. It ranked as one of the most expensive systems for employers in the country and was driving business out of state and also limiting business expansion opportunities.
The new system will provide options for arbitration; reduce doctor shopping among claimants, and place restrictions on legal fees that may be extracted from clients. It’ll also require work comp claims to be filed in a timely manner as well as require drug and alcohol tests after work comp claims are filed. Finally, the new system requires objective medical evidence before a claim will be granted and allows companies to create their own benefit plan under the “Oklahoma Option” with certain restrictions and guidelines.
The new system will ensure that injured workers are treated quickly and fairly. We have to make sure that when a worker is injured they are fairly compensated and receive the medical care they need to get back on the job as quickly as possible. It will also reduce costs for businesses so that they’ll want to locate or expand in our state creating more jobs.
The State Chamber of Oklahoma estimates that the new system will save Oklahoma businesses $263 million a year. That savings comes from a number of reforms being enacted including lowering the number of employees and judges in the workers’ comp system, utilizing mediation rather than long trials, using electronic recordings at hearings rather than court reporters and electronically filing documents. The old system is set to be completely eliminated in 2020.
The bottom line is that our new administrative workers’ comp system will put the brakes on the runaway cost of workers’ comp premiums and help create a stronger business climate in our great state.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 413, Oklahoma City, OK 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5586.