Braun proposes to end state’s monopoly on workers’ compensation coverage

20th District senator’s bill would give employers choice when buying industrial insurance

OLYMPIA… Washington is one of only a handful of states that do not allow employers to choose between a state agency and private carriers when shopping for industrial insurance, also known as workers’ compensation. Sen. John Braun says it’s time to end the state’s monopoly on offering workers’ comp coverage and points to Oregon for convenient proof.

“We don’t generally look to Oregon for advice on how to run a government program, but its workers’ compensation system is something we should look at,” said Braun, R-Centralia.

Braun said Oregon’s private-insurance option has helped to lower the rates for employers, improve the quality of care for injured workers and reduced the amount of time-loss (the amount of time an injured worker is not on the job) incurred.

Recently, an Op-Ed submitted by Reps. Dalhquist, R-Enumclaw and Hurst, D-Enumclaw’s in the Seattle Times in favor of reforming Washington’s workers’ compensation system elicited several union members to comment on the state’s monopolistic workers’ compensation system and how it impacted them and members of their families.

“Look at what progressives have accomplished in Oregon, Illinois, and (recently) West Virginia,” one union member said. “Lower premiums. Faster, better care for injured workers. And a WAY more efficient system. There is a good reason 46 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the state run workers comp scheme…”

Another member discussed his frustration with L&I over his brother’s injury. “My brother just went [through] an L&I nightmare,” he said. “In a non L&I case he would have had an MRI on his back in a week and the ensuing surgery with successful outcome the [following week], and would have returned to work in a month.”

Braun also heard testimony of employers during the hearing and said it quickly became apparent that he should add a private-coverage option to the list of proposed improvements.

“Even when you are talking about as little as a dollar per hour difference across 100 full-time employees it makes for an annual difference of $208,000, which is money that can be used for raises, additional employees or increases in benefits,” Braun said.

The drawbacks  Washington’s monopolized workers’ compensation system aren’t limited to cost, added Braun, who said offering a private option also would bring more stability to the market.

“Labor and Industries testified that the system would need an additional $110 million each year for ten years to be solvent,” Braun said. “What I propose is strictly a voluntary program that gives employers a choice between what’s offered now by the Department of Labor and Industries or a private carrier.”

Unfortunately, Washington’s system has gained a lot of notoriety, Braun noted. Both employers and injured workers have experienced difficulty with the time it takes for L&I to process claims, the agency’s treatment of employees while on time-loss (the length of time between an injury and returning to duty, even light duty).

“We are merely trying to give employers a choice,” Braun said. “We keep hearing from constituents from across the political spectrum that this monopolistic system is not working. We listened, and are offering a solution.”


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