Significant changes in Ohio''s workers'' compensation system have enhanced system performance, particularly in speeding the payments of benefits to injured workers, but there are opportunities for further progress, according to a study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI).
WCRI''s study of Ohio found:
- Tremendous improvement in the speed of reporting and payment of claims by the state''s exclusive workers'' compensation fund, the Bureau of Workers'' Compensation (BWC).
- A prompt and accessible dispute resolution system.
- High level of litigiousness.
"Following several years of legislative and administrative changes, system improvements have occurred," said Dr. Richard Victor, executive director of WCRI. "Injured workers are paid faster, disputes are resolved quickly and innovative managed care programs have been implemented that emphasize return to work."
However, he noted, the state should find ways to reduce its high level of litigiousness.
According to the study, the period from injury to filing for indemnity claims dropped from an average of 85 days in 1993 to 45 days in 1999.
The time from injury to first payment fell from an average of 181 days in 1993 to 104 days in 1998.
BWC''s Health Partnership Program may have played a central role in faster filing and payment of claims as well as faster return to work, according to the study.
Ohio''s dispute resolution system is accessible and swift, said the report.
In 1998, almost all disputes were resolved within 52 days at each of the first two levels of the dispute resolution process and in an average of 72 days at the administrative appellate level.
Faster resolution is facilitated by Ohio''s speedy scheduling of initial conferences or hearings, coupled with strict enforcement of rules for continuance.
Also, the state relies on medical reports, rather than deposition or live testimony, and its issue-specific hearing process reduces the time to final resolution, the study noted.
The study reported that several system features contribute to a high litigation rate.
Permanent partial disability (PPD) determination relies heavily on state fund-assigned doctors, whose objectivity is questioned by some worker advocates and some employers.
The law does not mandate a consistent set of guidelines when evaluating PPD ratings. Also, hearing officers commonly split the difference between adversarial ratings, creating incentives for participants to choose partisan experts, said WCRI.
by Virginia Sutcliffe