Legislators have learned that they have no
one to blame but themselves for the loss of power over the rules that govern
workers' compensation claims and benefits.
Lawmakers first ceded the rule-making powers in 1993,
during one of several overhauls meant to staunch the program's cost, Insurance
Commission officials reminded a joint interim subcommittee studying the issue
Lawmakers continued to exempt program rules from
legislative oversight during the 2003 overhaul, and then again in 2005 when it
spun it off as the now-private BrickStreet Insurance Co.
"The Legislature said, very clearly, that we're going to
have a different rule-making process for workers' compensation,'' said Mary
Jane Pickens, commission general counsel. "That's been happening for many, many
years at this point.''
But that may change after the subcommittee endorsed draft
legislation for the regular session that begins in January. It would create an
oversight panel of lawmakers to review rules governing this form of insurance,
similar to special committees that already monitor higher education and welfare
Sunday's vote, to send the draft bill to the Joint
Judiciary Committee, was not unanimous. Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth said
such a measure will spook the private insurers poised to compete with
BrickStreet in the state's compensation market next year.
"This is the antithesis of everything we've done to
privatize workers' compensation in this state,'' said Caruth, R-Mercer.
Supporters of the bill said they've fielded complaints
from injured workers and the lawyers representing them about the recent
handling of their claims.
Lawmakers also cited last year's tumult over
BrickStreet's move to cut off benefits to widows and widowers when their
deceased spouses would have reached retirement age.
Pickens noted that the issue did not involve a rule, and
has since been rescinded.
"That was an internal policy made by BrickStreet,'' she
said. "We agreed that it was an incorrect interpretation and believed that it
would not hold up if subjected to judicial appeal.''