Still lots to fix on workers’ compensation


Posted: Friday, August 12, 2005

Step by step.

That’s how the state’s workers’ compensation changes are progressing.

Gov. Frank Murkowski’s signed Senate Bill 130, one of his pet projects this session, on Tuesday, despite a fight from legislators and union lobbyists. They protested provisions to create a governor-appointed appeals commission and changes to pay only claims in which a work-related accident was the ‘‘substantial cause’’ of an injury.

We all know it’s not, by any means, the fix that’s desperately needed to make the system work. But as we’ve said before, any movement at all is better than sitting back and watching insurance climb to staggering numbers, forcing the closure of many mom and pop businesses — especially on the Kenai Peninsula.

We’ve run the numbers before, but they’re worth mentioning again, in case anyone has forgotten them.

In 2001, Central Peninsula General Hospital paid $390,000 for workers’ compensation insurance. In 2005, that cost has reached the $1 million mark. That’s an increase of more than 200 percent in four years.

An area machine shop went from paying $40,000 in 2001 to $100,000 in 2005; a fish processor paid $31,000 in 2000 and is paying $148,000 this year.

McDonald’s paid $24,000 in 2001. This year the tab is $133,000.

That’s a jump of more than 500 percent.

Few are arguing that something needs to be done, it’s just how to go about it.

Last week at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, representatives from the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce were on hand to talk about how they could help the local chambers.

President Wayne Stevens and chamber board chair Joan McCoy heard a resounding call for more help with workers’ comp. Stevens said it’s a call they frequently hear and a topic on a lot of radar screens around the state.

“There’s all sorts of pieces of the puzzle that still need to come together,” Stevens told the business crowd. “We’re fortunate enough to have made some headway.”

A foot in the door is good.

But like Stevens said, there’s still a lot of answers to find before we get to a solution.

The two suggested people write to those who represent them and turn up the heat, and that it needs to be a hot topic on their agenda when they return to Juneau in January.

That’s true. It does.

In order to make this first step a success, there is much work to be done.

And while critics claim an opportunity to fix problems has actually created more, we say seizing the opportunity was the best way to start.

Now at least we can move forward and, perhaps, help businesses on the peninsula begin to heal from the gouges, instead of giving them a placebo and a bandage.

Those at the Aug. 3 chamber meeting were encouraged to speak loud and often. McCoy noted that hitting our legislators while they’re here at home is best, where you can express concerns face to face.

Finding ways to make the workers’ comp system work — for employers and employees — may take time and lots of talking about it, but it is best solution for all of us. And that’s just what the doctor ordered.

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