Oregon workers’ compensation insurance rates will not increase in 2005, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said September 28.
The announcement marks the third straight year without an increase following 12 consecutive years of rate reductions that began with a major reform in 1990 that has saved Oregon businesses a total of about $10.1 billion, the governor said.
“No other state can equal our 15-year record,” Kulongoski said at a news conference at the Northwest Container Services Inc. shipping yard near the Port of Portland docks at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
He noted that both neighboring California and Washington are considering increases in their workers’ compensation insurance rates next year.
The “continued strength of our workers’ compensation system is a key competitive advantage to attracting business opportunities that will move Oregon forward to an economically secure and prosperous future,” the governor said.
Kulongoski said the state ranked sixth nationally for administrative costs of its workers’ compensation system in 1990 before reforms began, and now ranks 35th, a reduction in overhead that shows “we did the right thing 15 years ago.”
The governor also announced that one of the fees that pays for workers’ compensation and safety programs will be reduced next year, saving Oregon businesses $2.6 million.
State officials say workers’ compensation insurance premium costs have fallen 57.4 percent since 1990.
The state sets the so-called “pure premium” rate every year, which reflects the actual cost of workplace injury and illness claims before administrative expenses and profit are added.
Critics said rates could be even lower if voters approve a ballot measure in November that would abolish SAIF Corp., the state-owned workers’ compensation insurer, and leave the market to private companies.
There “are other states where measures like this have passed and rates have gone down,” said Lisa Gilliam, spokeswoman for Oregonians for Accountability, a campaign to eliminate SAIF funded by Liberty Northwest, a subsidiary of Boston-based insurance giant Liberty Mutual.
Earlier this month, the state Government Standards and Practices Commission approved a settlement that ended a 10-month investigation into whether SAIF misled the public by underreporting lobbying expenses. SAIF had to pay a $2,000 penalty for failing to report lobbying meal reimbursements on two occasions totaling $224.
The investigation began in December when state Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, filed a complaint with the state ethics commission claiming that SAIF had paid former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt and former House Speaker Larry Campbell about $1.4 million since 1998 but reported only $223,000 in lobbying spending.
Kulongoski defended SAIF, saying its image suffered from confrontations with the Legislature and a former top manager that has been replaced by Brenda Rocklin, the troubleshooter the governor named SAIF interim president.
“If you look at the financial side of the State Accident Insurance Fund, there has never been an allegation about the administration of the program,” Kulongoski said, calling it one of the best workers’ compensation systems in the nation.
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