February 20, 2011

Are Republicans Squishing Out on Work Comp Reform?

[This Marlin Oil advertorial appears in the February 24 edition of The City Sentinel.]

A recent hearing at the Oklahoma House of Representatives on what to do about CompSource seems likely to result in a drive for either "mutualization" (letting workers' comp policy holders become owners, sort of) or preservation of the status quo, and that's rather disappointing.

CompSource is a public-private hybrid, a two-headed creature where the people in charge say they run a public entity for purposes of benefits and pay, but a "private" business when it comes to things like open records, transparency, and accountability.

Advocates of selling CompSource to the private sector have not given up, and are reminding everyone this would be a pretty good year to get a bunch of cash to shore up pensions or even to accelerate tax reduction. It's been frankly unsettling to watch some Republicans, now that they're in power, organize opposition to sale of the so-called "insurer of last resort" in workers' comp insurance.

Some witnesses and legislators at the CompSource hearing early this month painted bad scenarios about what could happen if workers' comp insurance went to the private sector, where it belongs. Truth is, they can't point to any examples where sale of a government monopoly or near-monopoly like this led to collapse of the insurance market.

In other news, last weekend Governor Mary Fallin said a panel on workers' compensation reform is not going to recommend shifting the state toward an administrative system. OCU professor Andrew Spiropoulos, former Commissioner of Labor Brenda Reneau, and other conservative advocates have long supported getting lawyers out of the workers' comp system, and establishing an administrative structure to implement established precedent.

To sum up where thing stand after the first month of the legislative session, chances to see CompSource sold to the private sector seem to be dimming, but thankfully the idea is not yet dead and buried. Unless the governor gets involved it may be tough sledding to get the government out of the insurance business. The likely sale price for CompSource if it were privatized -- a quarter of a billion dollars or more -- so far doesn't seem enticing enough to get the state out of what should be a private business.

Additionally, the governor and her team have decided to leave the adversarial system of litigation in place for deciding workers' comp cases. That leaves Fallin's fans hoping that she is right and that reform can be gained by tinkering with the process -- bringing greater certainty to judicial decisions affecting workers and businesses in injury cases, limiting the ability of judges and lawyers to tinker with legislative intent and common sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment