At least some injured workers and the lawyers who help pursue their claims remain dissatisfied with West Virginia’s workers’ compensation system since it became the private, for-profit BrickStreet Insurance Co.
Legislators fielded complaints from both groups during their three-day series of interim meetings here.
Lawmakers also heard from owners of small businesses who urged them to stay the course on BrickStreet.
“I don’t want to see anything change at this point. I think the program is getting better,” said Tim Feltner, who has two employees at Feltner’s Automotive Services in Martinsburg.
But Feltner also warned of a possible emerging problem: compensation coverage for West Virginia’s more than 330 volunteer fire departments.
By their nature, Feltner said BrickStreet bases monthly premiums on hours worked instead of payroll as it does with most other employers. He cited one company charged the same rate for the 10,117 hours it spent on down time – cleaning trucks, wrapping hoses and the like – as the 2,234 hours it spent responding to fire calls.
“We’re being billed for that 10,000 hours at fireman’s rates,” Feltner said. “That to me seems to be the biggest problem.”
Sam Robertson of Orgill Inc. also praised how BrickStreet has improved the way it deals with employers. But he said he still pays nearly $400,000 a year to cover the 350 or so workers at his Eastern Panhandle hardware supply warehouse. He contrasted that with the lower rates just across the border, in Virginia and Maryland, and noted the resulting growth of such businesses in those places.
Clarence Martin, the newly minted chairman of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, echoed Feltner. He cited the 25 percent to 35 percent reduction in the premiums that employers pay for BrickStreet coverage.
“That is critical,” Martin told lawmakers. “One the biggest hurdles we always had to try to get over was workers’ compensation premiums.”
As a result, a recent survey of chamber members ranked BrickStreet and related changes the biggest boost the Legislature has given to state businesses in recent years, Martin said. They now await the July 1, 2008, date when other insurers can compete with BrickStreet in the compensation market.
“Let’s see how this works out,” Martin said.
Michael Burke, a Martinsburg lawyer, was among those who questioned BrickStreet’s handling of claims. A Joint Judiciary subcommittee was told as well that BrickStreet has supplied an outdated list of participating doctors and other providers to claimants.
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