Physician Lawmaker Calls for Workers Comp Changes in Oklahoma

State Rep. Doug Cox today joined the ranks of those urging reform of Oklahoma’s workers compensation system.

"As a physician and legislator I want a system that delivers the needed medical care to injured workers," said Cox, a Grove Republican and emergency room doctor. "We need to treat these workers as quickly and efficiently as possible."

However, he said Oklahoma’s current workers comp system actually discourages treatment of injured workers.

"Physicians are hesitant to take work comp cases under the present system because too often, after seeing an injured worker, the physician receives a subpoena for medical records and has to waste a great deal of time Xeroxing records and dealing with legal hassles," Cox said.

He said the current system also discourages workers from actually rehabilitating.

"I know many physicians are tired of releasing an injured employee to return to work only to find out later the worker was poorly motivated, preferring instead to take his chances on winning a big settlement through a workman comp case," Cox said. "In addition, physicians are concerned that even with the high number of injured workers receiving permanent partial disability payments, not enough cases are referred for actual vocational rehabilitation. I believe vocational rehabilitation should be started earlier in cases when it is warranted."

A recent legislative study found the rate of permanent partial disability payments (PPDs) in Oklahoma is almost twice the regional average, yet in 2006 Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system ordered vocational rehabilitation for only 4 percent of all cases.

Cox noted the current workers’ compensation system is also a drag on the state economy.

"The present system has resulted in higher rates for Oklahoma companies and that discourages economic development," Cox said. "We cannot offer enough up-front incentives to compensate for the high workers comp rates incurred year after year for even well-run Oklahoma businesses."

Cox said any reform of Oklahoma’s workers compensation system should emphasize efficient and quality medical care, and returning employees to the workforce as soon as possible (either at their old job or by retraining them for another job).

He said the reforms will impact some physicians who are bilking the system.

"I am saddened to admit there are some unscrupulous physicians who seem to be in the pockets of the workers comp attorneys and willing to write whatever disability rating the attorney requests," Cox said. "That has to end. I feel we should take a good look at any bill that reforms our present system to better serve the injured worker and Oklahoma industry. Industry deserves a system that helps an injured worker and does not place undue financial strain on Oklahoma companies"