Senator Sykes marks historic day in Oklahoma
August 26 is an important date in the history of workers' compensation in Oklahoma. It is the day that a new Workers' Compensation Code goes into effect. The Code is the result of legislative passage of SB 878, authored by Sen. Anthony Sykes, the first full rewriting of Oklahoma's workers' compensation laws in 31 years.
Some experts believe that the more than 200 changes in the workers' compensation laws will save Oklahoma businesses anywhere from $75 million to $100 million a year. The new law provides a fair playing field for both employers and injured workers. It makes both accountable for their actions. For example, there are penalties for employers who do not provide quick and quality medical care for workers injured on the job. On the other hand, injured workers who habitually miss medical appointments, fail to abide by the doctor's instructions, or refuse to report for a light duty assignment will lose substantial benefits.
Some of the highlights of the new Workers' Compensation Code are:
1. The cost of medical treatment will be reduced under a new Oklahoma fee schedule;
2. The maximum time for injured workers to be off the job with an injury is cut in half;
3. The liberal use of independent medical examiners should prevent unnecessary surgeries and get workers back on the job quicker;
4. Expanded mediation and informational programs will allow more workers to access benefits under the system without an attorney;
Perhaps the greatest savings for business will be the implementation of strict national guidelines that govern both the type and length of medical treatment due an injured worker. Oklahoma is the sixth state to adopt the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG) that will determine what medical treatment is reasonable and necessary. Texas and Ohio adopted ODG several years ago and have seen a significant reduction of neck and back surgeries and less time off for workers recovering from an injury.
This re-working of the workers' compensation laws was a cooperative effort of Governor Fallin and leaders of both houses of the Oklahoma legislature.