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The National Conference of Insurance Legislators plans to investigate workers compensation opt-out programs in the wake of media reports examining such alternative plans in Texas and Oklahoma.
NCOIL's Workers' Compensation Insurance Committee voted at its annual meeting last month to investigate opt-out programs, the organization said in a statement posted online last week. The decision was based on reports by National Public Radio and investigative journalism website ProPublica Inc. that detailed programs allowing employers to opt-out of state workers comp systems, as well as injured workers who were unable to receive benefits under opt-out programs.
The ability to leave the workers comp system has been around more than 100 years in Texas, and Oklahoma passed opt-out legislation in 2013. Legislators in Tennessee and South Carolina also considered opt-out bills this year.
“Though NCOIL has taken no position on these unique programs, we'd be remiss if we didn't look at the issue further — especially since there's movement in other states to let employers opt out of state workers' compensation requirements,” said North Dakota Sen. Jerry Klein in the statement. Sen. Klein is chairman of NCOIL's workers comp committee.
Troy, N.Y.-based NCOIL said its investigation also is prompted by a recent letter from a group of Democratic U.S. congressmen asking the U.S. Department of Labor to increase federal oversight of state workers comp programs. That letter was based on the NPR and ProPublica reports, as well.
The “growing federal interest in getting involved with state authority to oversee how injured employees are paid means that NCOIL must be ready to stand up for state consumer protections and regulations,” Sen. Klein said in the statement.
A new report that examines the equity of alternatives to workers compensation is not likely to deter backers who support opt-out legislation, sources say.