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Oklahoma lawmakers on Monday unveiled a widely anticipated bill that would allow employers to opt out of the state's workers compensation system, among other sweeping reforms.
Businesses nationwide have supported allowing employers in Oklahoma to create health plans as alternatives to participating in the state-mandated workers comp system in hopes passage of legislation in Oklahoma will provide a potential platform to expand the concept in other states.
Texas is the only state that allows employers, known as nonsubscribers, to opt out of its workers comp system.
But on Monday, Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and state Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, introduced S.B. 1062, which was scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The lengthy bill would allow employers to opt out of the state system only if they establish an alternative plan that must pay benefits regardless of whether an employee, employer or third party cause an occupational injury, said Bill Minick, president of Dallas-based PartnerSource, a consultant on alternatives to workers comp plans and a division of Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services Inc.
The bill does so by creating the Oklahoma Injury Benefit Act, which is similar to a proposal that failed last year. But this year's bill would require employers to provide the same level of benefits as called for under the workers comp system once it is modified by the new reform legislation.
The bill would allow employers to implement alternative dispute resolution agreements that would be legally enforceable. It also would replace the Oklahoma's current workers compensation court system with an administrative system governed by a three-member commission.
Other measures in the legislation would:
• Limit temporary total disability compensation for nonsurgical soft tissue injuries to eight weeks, regardless of the number of body parts suffering an injury, although employees would be allowed to petition for a benefits extension with a doctor's recommendation.
• Discontinue benefits if an injured employee missed two or more scheduled treatment appointments, except under extraordinary circumstance or when notice is given to the employer with a valid excuse.
• Make the Official Disability Guidelines published by the Work Loss Data Institute the primary standard for determining the frequency and extent of services presumed to be medically necessary.