Oklahoma labor commissioner: Workers’ comp reform worth celebrating this Labor Day
BY MARK COSTELLO
The workers’ compensation environment in Oklahoma is worthy of recognition this Labor Day.
Workers’ compensation has been around for 100 years in the United States and is designed to rehabilitate, pay for health care and cover a worker’s lost wages.
In 2010, when I started advocating for reform, I looked nationwide to find the best practice used in administering this type of insurance program. I didn’t have to look far — it was our neighbor to the east, Arkansas. Oklahoma employers had to pay $2.52 for what Arkansas was paying $1! Oklahoma businesses were paying 250 percent more for identical coverage. This created an unlevel playing field for Oklahoma businesses. Oklahoma workers sometimes suffered lower wages as a result.
Medical care in Oklahoma was less expensive than in Arkansas, but the savings didn’t make their way to employees. Savings were eaten up in Oklahoma’s adversarial, lawyer-based workers’ comp system. There was no moral, ethical or economic justification for Oklahoma’s lawyered-up system that burdened employers and employees alike.
After years of missteps and opposition from those who preferred the job-killing status quo, in 2013 the Legislature had had enough. Lawmakers replaced the court-based system with an Arkansas-style administrative system. Now, employer and employee have a more level playing field in this most important insurance program.