News Column

Workers' comp bureau proposes $1B in rebates

August 14, 2014

By Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio



Aug. 14--COLUMBUS -- Another strong year of investment returns prompted the state's insurance fund for injured workers on Wednesday to propose a second round of premium rebates worth about $1 billion.

"Employers of Ohio, you've got a big chunk of money coming back to you," Gov. John Kasich said at a small Columbus business. "Some will be smaller. Some will be larger. Local governments will get money back."

The first checks will go out in October, shortly before voters head to the polls.

If the same thing occurs this time as occurred with the first round last year, a series of check presentations are in the offing.

The rebates were again made possible by robust returns on the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation's investments -- 13.3 percent during the last year and 8.9 percent during the last three years. The bureau's reserves total $7.7 billion, above what actuaries say is needed to ensure the viability of the state insurance fund for injured workers.

Steve Buehrer, the former state representative and senator from Delta who heads the BWC, said the decision was made to issue rebate checks rather than use the largess to lower premiums for employers across the board. The rebates are expected to amount to 60 percent of what an employer paid in premiums in their last policy periods.

"The money that allowed us to do the dividend announcement didn't come from overcharging employers," he said. "It came from investment returns that well exceeded the investment targets that we put in place.

"We continue to set premium rates on an annual basis based on the number of accidents and the cost of those accidents we see coming forward in Ohio workplaces. We'll continue to lower premium rates as we've done three out of the last four years for private-sector employers as we see the trend continuing to go down."

Mr. Buehrer and Mr. Kasich cautioned businesses against counting on dividend rebates in the future as employers did more than a decade ago when steep discounts in premiums suddenly disappeared when the Coingate scandal eroded confidence in the bureau's investment practices.

"If you did it as a rate thing then you'd have to adjust rates up if investment returns didn't meet expectations, so today is a dividend that we all should celebrate, but it is a one-time event," Mr. Buehrer said.

"Businesses should not plan on this. They shouldn't put it in their long-term plan. What they should do, which is what a lot of them did the first time around, is invest in safety, maybe hire a few employees, bankroll themselves into the future."

The BWC's board is expected to consider the proposal at its September meeting. The campaign for Mr. Kasich's Democratic opponent in November, Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald, called the Wednesday announcement "empty rhetoric."

"Kasich's 'pro-business' policies have benefitted large corporations, many overseas, while Ohio's small businesses have struggled against higher [commercial activity] and sales taxes, as well as other policies that benefit special interests at the expense of hard-working Ohioans," it said.

The bureau is also putting more money into safety training and research programs for private and public-sector employees.

"The additional rebates that were announced ... are more welcomed news to small-business owners, who make up the majority of state fund employers," said Roger Geiger, Ohio vice president and executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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(c)2014 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

Visit The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) at www.toledoblade.com

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Source: Blade (Toledo, OH)


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