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Oklahoma Options wants workers' comp opt-out under ERISA

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An Oklahoma workers' compensation case is under review by the state's Supreme Court. At issue is whether the Oklahoma Employee Injury Benefit Act is constitutional and enforceable.

In February, the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission ruled in Vasquez v. Dillards that "the benefit plans permitted to be used to opt-out establish a dual system under which injured workers are not treated equally." The other part of the "dual system" is the Oklahoma Option's Employee Benefit Plan, which was established under the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Any benefit plan must be equal to or better than what workers' compensation provides.

Opponents to the opt-out plan believe that there does need to be improvements made to the workers' compensation system, but they also believe the traditional status quo of the system needs to be preserved.

On the flip side, those who want another plan believe that employees will see a positive outcome and employers will see lower costs.

One supporter of the Oklahoma Option said that the plaintiff in the case -- the injured worker -- received substantial benefits until her claim was denied. He also said that the groups that are against workers' comp alternatives are simply ignoring data that provide the positive outcomes that employees and employers have seen. "Changing the status quo in workers' compensation is difficult. There's a lot of resistance to the ideas of greater employer and employee, and medical provider accountability, and competition."

The Workers' Injury Law and Advocacy Group said opt-out plans, which are developed under ERISA guidelines, "are a wholly inadequate substitute for traditional workers' compensation plans." One reasons for this is because of the limitations ERISA-based plans have on the right to sue. However, even if the right to sue is included in ERISA plans, the WILG says the plans are still not adequate and "will inevitably shift the burden of liability from employers for employees' injuries to state and federal programs."

It will be interesting to see how the state Supreme Court rules on this topic in the coming months.

If you feel you have not been fairly represented by an ERISA filing, an attorney can provide you with better information and your options.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Opposing Sides File Briefs in Challenge to Oklahoma’s Work Comp Opt-Out," Stephanie K. Jones, Aug. 30, 2016

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