LIMA — Bureau of Workers’ Compensation board members introduced themselves and heard concerns, present and past, from the public during a forum Wednesday.
Five of 11 members of the board held a forum at the BWC Lima office, which serves 11 regional counties, to explain current activities of the agency and take questions. The current board was appointed in 2007 and has fiduciary responsibility for the $25 billion in assets that fund the agency’s claim payments.
The Ohio BWC is the largest state insurance fund in the country; if it were private, it would be the sixth largest private-sector workers’ compensation company in the country. It includes nearly $2 billion in annual premiums and nearly 1 million active claims.
The board has made multiple changes resulting in improvements for private and public employers. For example, private employer premiums have been reduced by $409 million in three years, and local governments’ funds have declined by $68.3 million in the same period, and are at their lowest level in 30 years.
The agency is also reforming policies resulting in changes injured workers see. For example, doctors are reducing the amount of opiates and pain medication they prescribe and the board is monitoring the numbers.
While 80 percent of injured workers who file a claim with the bureau are back to work in a week, some cases go on for years. The bureau has 20 active cases from the 1940s, hundreds from the 1950s and thousands from the 1960s.
UltraParty and UltraSound owner Kevin Weiging, of Delphos, spoke about increased payments he makes because he believes some of his employees are misclassified under more dangerous job classifications. Inflatable amusements aren’t as dangerous as some kinds of carnival and amusement jobs, but he pays a higher rate because an exact classification for his work doesn’t exist, Weiging said.
Weiging and other employers attending the forum also talked about a bureau past practice, assertive auditing to raise revenue for the bureau. Weiging said a previous auditor decided he didn’t have the correct classification for some of his workers for three years, resulting in a required $40,000 payment for the years he wasn’t paying the higher rates.
Board member Chan Cochran didn’t like the sound of that.
“I can tell you that practice would not find sympathy with this board or the governor,” Cochran said.
Other employers asked about an ongoing class action lawsuit against the bureau that is working its way through the Ohio court system and most likely headed for the Ohio Supreme Court. Those suing allege the bureau charged excessive workers’ compensation premium rates to employers who were not able to participate in Ohio’s group rating program.