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Worker's comp needs overhaul

WORTHINGTON -- The workers' compensation system needs to be reformed, said Steve Sviggum, Minnesota's Commissioner of Labor and Industry Tuesday at Travelodge in Worthington.

"The system needs reform now before it becomes chaos," Sviggum said to an audience of approximately 20 area residents and business leaders.

The workers' compensation system's last major reform was in 1995, Sviggum said, and since then two trends have dominated the program. First, workplace injuries have dramatically decreased. Second, the cost per case of those workplace injuries has significantly increased.

Four committees are investigating possibilities that might bring the cost of those cases down without hurting the bottom line for either the injured workers or their employers, and improve the speed and efficiency of the workers' compensation system.

All four committees have representatives from labor unions as well as employers, and they are all in the process of formulating their recommendations for legislative action.

Slowness is one of several problems with the existing system, Sviggum said. The billing process alone can drag on for months, with an insurance company and a care provider going back and forth with questions and issues for each other.

Sviggum's proposal is a 15-15-15 solution, in which the entire process would take 45 days.

"People on all sides of the issue say this is the right thing to do," Sviggum said, emphasizing the involvement of employees as well as employers in the discussion.

He also criticized the high rate paid for workers' compensation reimbursement as compared to that of that of Medicare, Medicaid and even the cost of regular medical care. The same injuries are reimbursed at radically different rates in each system, Sviggum said.

Vocational rehabilitation after an accident should also occur faster than it currently does, Sviggum said, in order to get people back to work quickly.

"The longer someone is out (of work) the harder it is to get them back," he explained, adding that accountability measures to ensure the system works.

Sviggum advocated a timeline cap for rehabilitation, so people couldn't keep getting rehabilitation forever without going back to work. An exclusive list of providers for rehabilitation would also enable employees and employers to choose the best, most efficient places to get different types of rehabilitation.

On the employee side, he advocated for continuation of healthcare benefits during rehabilitation, so that an injured worker wouldn't suddenly stop receiving benefits while unable to return to work.

"It can be better for the injured worker and it can be better for the business," Sviggum said.

The committees may make their recommendations in November.