As part of a new law that allows certain Oklahoma employers to opt out of the state's workers compensation system, a three-member Workers' Compensation Commission has been established as has an administrative dispute resolution process.
The transition from a court-based system to an administrative system spurred headlines in July, as hearings for thousands of injured workers were delayed and 16 state employees handling workers comp matters were laid off.
The court-based system under the previous law still has “thousands of claims to work through” for workers who were injured on or before Jan. 31, said Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commissioner Denise Engle in Oklahoma City.
However, the commission has already “seen a reduction in disputed cases, which is encouraging because that means (workers) are getting their claims taken care of,” she said.
“It makes sense that shifting from a court-based system to an administrative system is going to initially require some staffing redundancies and transition of responsibilities,” said Bill Minick, president of Dallas-based consultant PartnerSource. “I'm not surprised that workers compensation court is reducing staff as their legacy claims are resolved.”
The benefits of an administrative system to resolve comp disputes are undeniable, said Bruce Wood, workers compensation director at the American Insurance Association in Washington.
“That is the way it works in other states,” he said. “Do you get perfect results? No. But certainly time has shown that administrative systems for workers compensation are certainly a better bet than otherwise. Otherwise, all these other states … would have turned to court-based systems. That's not what happened.”