Leadership at a statewide association of independent agents in Oklahoma has issued statements publicly supporting workers’ compensation system reform legislation.
Dan Ramsey, president and CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma, said the statements are in response to communication by some IIAO members’ questioning the group’s position on Senate Bill 1062.
Ramsey said the IIAO has been working for more than a year on what it would like to see in a workers’ comp measure, and that most of its concerns have been met in the evolution of SB 1062.
The measure would change the state’s workers’ comp system from a court-driven system to an administrative one. The most controversial part of the bill, however, is that it would establish an alternative option for procuring workers’ compensation insurance coverage.
IIAO has nearly 500 agency members, some of which are opposed to the alternative option portion of the bill. Most members, however, have been supportive of IIAO’s stance on the bill, Ramsey said.
IIAO’s Executive Committee unanimously voted in support of SB1062 at its Feb. 19 meeting, but until now, the group’s leadership has not publicly expressed support or opposition to the legislation, Ramsey said. One reason for that, Ramsey said, is that the “IIAO executive team didn’t want to jump out ahead of the bill with a statement.”
On March 22, Ramsey and IIAO Chairman Ed McGrath sent the following letter to members of the state legislators, expressing its position on the workers’ comp reform measure.
“In the 2012 legislative session, HB2155 & SB1378 were proposed to allow for Oklahoma businesses to purchase optional coverage to workers compensation to provide benefits to injured workers. These bills did not receive our endorsement because of several key elements. Our leadership met with the coalition proposing this legislation to let them know of our concerns. They agreed to address them in legislation that would be introduced in the 2013 session – this legislation is contained in SB1062.
“At its Annual Planning Meeting on August 22, 2012, the IIAO Board of Directors agreed unanimously to approve the concept of changing to an administrative system as well as an optional coverage system if it met our concerns. As you are aware there were 31 bills introduced this session to reform the system – SB1062 is the surviving bill. After reviewing it, it appears that all but one of the items has been addressed and that can be addressed through the rule making process rather than by legislation.
“IIAO has withheld any public statements regarding this legislation until now. The IIAO Executive Committee voted unanimously to support SB1062 because most importantly it will replace the current court system with an administrative system. In addition it will bring new choices to the consumer.
“The workers compensation system was never intended to be adversarial in nature, but it has become so. The administrative approach, as utilized in almost every other state, will result in savings to businesses and prompter response to the injured worker. The optional coverage is just that – it is an option. No one is required to buy it; no one is required to sell it. Ultimately, the free market will decide if this is the preferred option.
“For over 100 years independent insurance agents in Oklahoma have advocated bringing choices to their clients. A few years ago our national brand changed to Trusted Choice as a sign that our members are the ones who bring consumers choices and options. The optional coverage does just that. It will be a licensed insurance product that will be regulated by the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner, as are all other carriers.
“Is the bill perfect? Probably not, but a 260-page bill never is – that’s the reason the legislature will meet again in 2014 – to make changes where needed. In fact, an additional change to prohibit the optional coverage for associations is strongly supported.
“SB1062 is the opportunity of a lifetime! The reforms are too important to let slip away. I strongly urge your support of SB1062 when it is brought to the floor for a vote. It will bring needed reforms for Oklahoma businesses, injured workers, and insurance carriers. It will also bring new options for consumers to choose which program is best for their business.”
McGrath also sent the following letter to IIAO members clarifying the organization’s efforts on behalf of workers’ comp reform.
“I am responding today to a few members’ questions and accusations concerning the conduct of the leadership of IIAO.
“The basis of these allegations is related to SB 1062 which is the Administrative and Optional Coverage Workers Compensation Act.
“Concerns as I understand them are related to lack of communication and misrepresentation. I will address both issues, but before doing so, I want to share an outline of the past year.
“March 2012 – HB2155 proposed legislation that would create an alternative option outside of the Oklahoma WC system;
“April 12, 2012 – IIAO Day at the Capitol – Board decision to be neutral on HB2155, but delivered one page document to all legislators expressing our concerns. HB2155 failed;
“July 2012 – Executive Committee members met with representatives of Oklahoma Injury Benefit Coalition and Oklahoma State Guarantee Funds. Dan Ramsey presented an Administrative System Option based on Arkansas results, as IIAO preferred a method of seeking true Oklahoma WC Reform. IIAO Executive Committee re-communicated concerns over previous legislation;
“August 2012 – Board of Directors approved the concept of changing to an administrative system, as well as an alternative optional coverage system, if it met our previous concerns;
“February 18, 2013 – SB 1062 was published;
“February 19, 2013 – Executive Committee reviewed and after much discussion unanimously voted to support SB 1062;
“March 8, 2013 – IIAO hosts a Panel Discussion at IIAO office discussing the merits of SB 1062. All IIAO members were encouraged to attend and submit questions or concerns. Every question that was received was presented to the panel. Ed MCGrath announced to all present that IIAO Executive Committee voted to support SB 1062. A video of this panel discussion is available for viewing on IIAO Website (www.iiaok.com).
“Now back to communication with IIAO members:
“Last year IIAO was neutral on HB 2155 because we had some concerns with the proposed legislation, but also because we did not want to appear self-serving and oppose the bill for fear of loss of commission revenue. It is my opinion that IIAO leadership has communicated and provided ample opportunity for its members to participate and communicate their concerns.
“It is also my opinion that the miscommunication and self interests of a few have accomplished their goal of creating divisiveness and confusion among our members. SB 1062, although not close to perfect, provides the best opportunity for true WC reform I have seen in my career. The advantages of an administrative system, even with an alternative optional coverage system, give Oklahoma the best opportunity for competition and economic development.
“… The IIAO membership is as diverse as any organization. The IIAO leadership believes it is representing the core values of our mission statement. We have heard more support for our position on SB 1062 than opposition; but mostly we are receiving more questions, due to the confusion and random communications. I ask you to give us the same common courtesy you would want extended to you in this position. The ‘Kill the Bill’ mentality is not helpful. If you have specific recommendations to improve this legislation, please forward them so we may ask that they be considered.”
SB 1062 was passed by the Senate by a vote of 34 to 12 and sent to the Oklahoma House for consideration on March 5.
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