We’ve all heard the saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, that saying could not be applied to Texas’ workers’ compensation system for the last several years. Texas’ workers’ compensation system has had some of the highest medical care costs and missed work statistics in the nation. The system has been broken for quite some time, but the legislature has recently taken significant steps to fix it.
Step one: abolish the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission. House Bill 7, which addressed what could turn out to be sweeping changes in the system, started by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Effective September 1, 2005, workers’ compensation functions are now performed by the Division of Workers’ Compensation, which is a new arm of the Texas Department of Insurance. Albert Betts, Jr., formerly the Chief of Staff of the Texas Department of Insurance, has been appointed as the Commissioner of the Division.
In addition, the Office of Injured Employee Counsel (OIEC) has been created as a separate state agency charged with assisting injured workers. Not only will the OIEC assist injured workers with complaints they have filed through the Division, it will also provide other services, such as rehabilitation and work placement programs.
Obviously, just changing the construct of the Commission is not enough. Legislative and agency rules changes designed to have an impact on the workers’ compensation system are in the works and are expected to be forthcoming as the Division’s operations are put into place. As a result, it will probably take some time to see the full impact of House Bill 7. Be that as it may, given the ineffectiveness and bureaucracy of the Texas Workers’ Compensation system, these changes are expected to bring nothing but improvement from a system that simply was not working.
Information about newly adopted or proposed rules will be posted periodically on the Texas Department of Insurance Website (www.tdi.state.tx.us).