Monday, January 23, 2012

GUEST COLUMN: "Changes to BWC Will Benefit Ohio’s Workers"

St. Rep. Louis Terhar
By State Rep. Louis Terhar

In our effort to reduce the costs of running the government and spending tax dollars more wisely, the Ohio House has devoted a lot of its time working with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. This collaboration has resulted in many positive changes to the bureau, which will lighten the burden on taxpayers, while still providing the vital services that it has been committed to during its 100 years of operation.

One priority of the BWC was to find ways to lower its cost. Facing difficult economic times for the past few years, all state agencies have had to do the same—they do not have much of a choice. However, a serious effort must be made to cut spending without gutting the services that people depend on. By lowering the average base rates by merely four percent, the BWC will save Ohio’s private employers $65 million in premiums. Also, by reducing public employer rates by five percent, local governments will save about $22 million per year.

It is important to understand that lowering costs for local governments also benefits private citizens and taxpayers. Greater economic freedom for local municipalities translates into added economic freedom for the individuals funding such programs, giving them more opportunity to support community businesses and spend money as they prefer. This is true of all public spending, and the progress made by the BWC in the past year should be a role model for all other state agencies.

Another valuable initiative is the implementation of the Destination: Excellence program. The goal of this measure is to improve return-to-work rates—that is, to help workers get back on the job more quickly. Employers will be rewarded for constructing risk management plans focusing on safety and prevention. This will clearly benefit workers as well because it places more emphasis on the safety and well being of employees.

Similarly, the Wellness Grant Program awards companies as much as $15,000 to initiate policies focused on maintaining employee health. This includes helping employers deal with health problems such as obesity and other chronic diseases, all of which can contribute to work-related injuries and slow recovery times.

The focus of the Ohio House of Representatives over the past year has been to make government more accountable to taxpayers, and that effort will only intensify in the coming year. It is easy to talk about cutting spending and increasing efficiency, but the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation provides real examples of how these ideas are being put into practice. These changes do not simply provide relief to local governments’ budgets, but also help to improve the health and safety of Ohio’s workforce.