Risk Insider: Bill Minick

Performance Report Clearly Defines Oklahoma Option Success

By: | October 7, 2016

Bill Minick is president of PartnerSource, a risk management consulting firm specializing in workers’ compensation alternatives. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Oklahoma option to workers’ compensation is a good story about innovation and positive results.  Despite an adverse ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court and hypothetical “might” or “would have” warnings from option opponents, the Oklahoma option achieved impressive results for both injured workers and employers.

Two-Year Oklahoma Option Performance Report

Two years of data soundly define the advantages of employee advocacy and personal responsibility; expanded access to the best physicians who practice evidence-based medicine; and competition.  According to a recent report from the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC), the option has:

  • Created competition that reduces insurance premiums for all Oklahoma employers
  • Generated 70 percent savings on injury claim costs
  • Reduced disputes between injured workers and employers by 75 percent
  • Delivered better disability benefits to most covered workers

But that was yesterday. Unfortunately, the tens of thousands of Oklahoma workers who were covered by option programs will no longer receive the same understandable communications on their rights and responsibilities. Their injury claims will no longer be reviewed under a legal standard to do what is in the best interest of the employee. And they will be four times more likely to need a lawyer.

No Oklahoma employer is escaping these attacks unscathed. More than three dozen provisions of the 2013 Oklahoma workers’ compensation reform have also fallen to similar attacks.  Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt characterized the demise of the Oklahoma option as another court decision “out-of-touch with our current economic climate, threatening to return our state to a system with exorbitant awards, high premiums, and hostility towards employers, ultimately hurting all working Oklahomans.”

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That is worrisome – because reform has been working in Oklahoma.

If the option was performing so well, why did the court knock it down? It wasn’t about performance or the facts of the case. The ruling is based on the court’s creative application of the state constitution’s “special law” provision. That decision will not impede the Texas model of how we can live and work in freedom and still have healthy workers, high wages, and a strong economy.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt characterized the demise of the Oklahoma option as another court decision “out-of-touch with our current economic climate, threatening to return our state to a system with exorbitant awards, high premiums, and hostility towards employers, ultimately hurting all working Oklahomans.”

Supporters of a competitive alternative feel a little like Thomas Edison when he said his famous line, “When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Option programs can and will be further improved, just as we’ve seen in over the past year with significant injury benefit plan coverage enhancements.

For those taking Mr. Edison’s path, it takes a strong spirit to simultaneously question, support and work to radically improve a system that too often seems to work best only for a few vocal special interests.

With Loss Comes Opportunity for Change

One of Mr. Edison’s fellow innovators, Steve Jobs, said, “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”  Supporters of a competitive option to workers’ compensation have been called crazy a time or two.  But at least our passion is focused outward on the ones these programs were originally designed for: employers and their workers.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]