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To the editor: Your Sept. 22 editorial "Campaigning For Comp Reform" was both misleading and wrong on several important points. You castigate labor for being political rather than practical, but it was a "political move" by the Ohio corporate community that motivated their sycophants in the state Legislature to pass S.B. 45 in the first place. The terrible content of that legislation along with the cold shoulder given to workers by legislators resulted in the first referendum challenge to an Ohio law in nearly 60 years.
In detailing the "reforms," you totally missed the reason why labor, injured workers and their advocates have mobilized to defeat this law at the polls on Nov. 4. The net effect of what you call a "broad and significant" reform would be to cut benefits for the vast majority of injured workers through two very questionable tactics.
The first would result from the way Ohio legislators mandated the use of the American Medical Assn.'s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. They decided to compensate workers for only the "medical" consequences of their injuries while totally ignoring the "economic" effects. The AMA itself warned against the misuse of the Guides when it wrote, "It must be emphasized and clearly understood that impairment percentages derived according to Guides criteria should not be used to make financial awards or direct estimates of disabilities."
The second involved the insidious effort to eliminate from coverage certain occupational diseases, including conditions commonly referred to as "cumulative or repetitive trauma." This would be accomplished by specifically excluding those conditions that occur outside of employment unless one can meet the virtually impossible burden of proving "by a preponderance of the evidence that the disease or condition is characteristic of or peculiar to a particular industrial process, trade, or occupation."
These changes, unless rejected by voters, will allow businesses and corporations to shift the cost of conditions currently covered by workers compensation in Ohio to other public and private sources-in other words, to the taxpayers or the injured workers themselves.
You also claim that if the law is turned back by the voters that "costs (in Ohio) are likely to remain high." Here are the facts:
In the past three years, the Ohio state fund has turned a $2.5 billion deficit into a $2.9 billion surplus-a recovery of $5.4 billion!
According to a recent business study (Actuarial & Technical Solutions), the cost of wage replacement in Ohio is less than all but one of its neighboring states. Ohio had an "index" rate of 1.025, which placed it virtually in the middle of all states.
The cost of medical benefits provided to injured workers in Ohio is far below the national average (according to the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, just 35.7% of total benefits went to medical expenses, compared to 41% nationally).
Premium increases between 1990 and 1995 were negligible (less than 1%) compared to increases of 40% or more in all surrounding jurisdictions.
In April of this year (in an action totally unaffected by the passage of S.B. 45), the Bureau announced a rate decrease of 15% (reported by BI in your May 5, 1997, issue)-on top of a rate reduction of 7.3% in 1996.
To top it off, your editorial makes a gratuitous comment about worker "fraud" involving claims for injuries incurred off the job but offers not one shred of evidence or support for such a claim. I would remind you that the Bureau uncovered $19 million in premium underpayments by employers in the 1994-95 fiscal year, after auditing only 4% of its customers. But then, we are all too polite to refer to such business behavior as fraudulent.
James N. Ellenberger
Assistant Director-Department of
Occupational Safety and Health
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations