Senate BWC budget to improve system

Published 10:10 am Thursday, June 25, 2009

One of the biggest challenges for business development and job retention in Ohio is our state’s worker’s compensation system.

Recently, I met with state and local officials in Highland County, as well as area business owners and representatives from the local chamber of commerce to discuss the impact that changes at the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation (BWC) are having on the ability of companies in Southern Ohio and other parts of the state to grow and create jobs.

I have also spoken to many injured workers trying to file claims and access benefits through BWC, who say that the system is plagued by government red tape and slow and painful response times.

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In short, the current worker’s compensation process is not working for injured workers or Ohio employers.

This past week, as the General Assembly and the Strickland Administration continue to grapple with the state operating budget, my colleagues and I in the Senate approved our version of House Bill 15, the BWC budget, which not only allocates dollars for the Bureau’s operations over the next two years, but takes a number of steps to improve Ohio’s worker’s compensation system for both workers and businesses. It is important to note that the BWC is funded through employer premiums and not the state’s general revenue fund.

The Senate BWC budget would establish a bipartisan task force to study the impact of allowing competitive-based alternatives to Ohio’s government-operated, worker’s compensation system, in an effort to reduce premium costs and provide more options for workers and employers. For instance, West Virginia recently converted its worker’s compensation program into a private plan and opened the door to competition from other private insurers.

The task force could also examine the feasibility of keeping the current public BWC structure, while allowing private insurance companies to compete with the Bureau to provide coverage. This could help make premiums more competitive with other states and improve service for employers and injured workers.

There are many alternatives, but it is clear that for Ohio to attract and retain businesses and jobs now and in the future, we must explore innovative ways to improve our state’s worker’s compensation system.

The Senate version of HB 15 also works to address concerns that recent changes at the Bureau have created unfair fluctuations in the experience modification (EM) rating system for hundreds of construction companies in Ohio.

The EM rate is a national standard that is calculated based on the number of worker’s compensation claims made by an employer and is often used during the bidding process to determine if a contractor gets hired for a project.

Unfortunately, recent reforms in the BWC system have raised the EM rating for more than 600 construction companies in Ohio — many without any worker’s compensation claims — to a level that essentially disqualifies them from bidding for contracts.

If ignored, this problem could drive these businesses out of the state and cost Ohio thousands of jobs.

In addition, the Senate BWC budget continues premium discounts for businesses who participate in the drug free workplace and workplace safety programs.

While there is still much more work left to be done, the Senate took some important steps in our version of HB 15 to create a worker’s compensation system in Ohio that is friendly to both businesses and injured workers and the future success of our state’s economy.

It is my hope that these changes will survive a vote of the House and the Governor’s veto pen.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.