ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Sviggum pitches workers' compensation reform during visit to Cloquet this week

"Our primary goal is to keep people safe," stated Commissioner Steve Sviggum of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) as he addressed some 20 business people, human resources directors, chamber members and politicians at Cloquet Ci...

"Our primary goal is to keep people safe," stated Commissioner Steve Sviggum of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) as he addressed some 20 business people, human resources directors, chamber members and politicians at Cloquet City Hall on Tuesday.

"We want to make sure each one of them arrives home at night in the same condition he or she arrived at work," he added.

Sviggum was in town to tout his plan to reform workers' compensation in Minnesota, with an eye toward passing new legislation during the 2009 session.

Sviggum, long-time legislator and former speaker of the House of Representatives, recently assumed the role as commissioner of the DLI and took on as one of his primary mandates the reform of workers' compensation in the state. After a reform bill failed to pass last session, he said the DLI has been busy working with insurers, employers and employees to conceive new ways to improve Minnesota's workers' compensation system.

"The workers' compensation system is not in chaos in Minnesota as it is in some states," Sviggum assured attendees. "It is not a broken system, but the time has come to reform it before radical changes are necessary, similar to those in states such as California and Hawaii."

ADVERTISEMENT

Sviggum informed audience members that workplace injuries are going down in Minnesota - due largely to businesses adopting better health and safety measures, more updated technology and new equipment. He added, however, that costs for work-related injuries are rising dramatically, often faster than the rate of inflation, due to rising medical and rehabilitation costs, litigation expenses and administrative fees.

"We must keep in mind that the two most important things are the injured worker and the business who pays the [workers' compensation] premium," reminded Sviggum.

"We need to measure the success of the system by how well it helps the injured worker and the business who pays the premium," he stated.

He said the DLI brought together a balanced group of stake holders this summer to help determine what type of reform is needed.

"Rather than feeling they are having something done to them, they need to feel they actually have a say in how the system should look," said Sviggum.

He said as he's traveled around the state to take a closer look at the workers' compensation system, he has noted a number of ills in the system, including bills that remain unpaid for long periods of time, bills that are sent directly to the injured worker rather than the insurer (some of which contain threats of legal action), and the "ping pong" effect of claims that are sent back and forth between insurance providers, employers and health care providers with no apparent progress.

To address such ills, Sviggum said he is proposing reform in the form of vocational rehabilitation that will get injured workers back to work as soon as possible (perhaps by performing light duty tasks in the workplace). He said there also needs to be some sort of cap imposed on cases that have failed to make any forward progress for long periods of time, and he added the legal system also has to have some sort of investigative powers to determine why some cases are unduly prolonged.

To that end, Sviggum said he is bringing forth a "15/30" proposal that will allow the insurer 15 days to request clarification on a claim, 15 days to deny all or part of the claim and a maximum of 30 days for the department to make a decision on the case. He said if the time schedule is not met, penalties would be imposed for inaction if deemed valid.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sviggum further stated that workers' compensation reform also needs to address the fact that workers' compensation claim coverage is far greater than that required by commercial or Medicare or Medicaid providers, which he indicated amounts to having the workers' compensation system effectively subsidize Medicare and Medicaid.

Finally, Sviggum said he envisions workers' compensation reform as piloting an exclusive provider group that will adequately address the special needs of workers' compensation claims.

He also said he believes changes must be made to ensure that prescribed narcotic drugs are utilized by the injured worker and don't end up out on the street, and indemnity for illegal or undocumented workers filing claims has to be addressed.

"I believe the potential for this type of reform legislation to get on the agenda in 2009 is great," summed up Sviggum, "which is as it should be - before the system is broken."

What To Read Next