Initiative 1082: Vote no

October 15, 2010 

The underlying argument behind Initiative 1082 -- that the state's worker compensation system could benefit from a little competition -- certainly is compelling.

Employers rightly are worried about the rising cost of supporting the state monopoly, and some legitimate questions exist over incidents of abuse by workers healthy enough to return to the job.

But while we're sympathetic to those calling for reform, I-1082 is the wrong way to go about it.

The initiative is sponsored by insurance companies and the Building Industry Association of Washington. Neither one is looking out for injured workers.

That's a problem. Any reform in the state worker compensation system has to start by protecting the interests of the folks the program is designed to protect.

That simply doesn't happen in this initiative.

That's why state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and state Auditor Brian Sonntag are opposed to I-1082.

They concluded I-1082 "exempts workers' compensation insurers from the voter-approved Insurance Fair Conduct Act, meaning worker compensation insurers can wrongfully and intentionally delay and deny legitimate claims for years and there's virtually no way to hold them accountable.

According to Kreidler, the insurance industry wrote I-1082 to give itself special exemptions that no other line of insurance is allowed - not car, home, life or health insurance.

It's not just a problem for workers. It leaves businesses vulnerable too.

Under I-1082, businesses wouldn't be protected when worker compensation insurers go bankrupt. Any premiums paid would be lost. Other insurance companies are required to pay into a fund to protect businesses from such losses.

The measure also would transfer the worker's share of worker compensation costs to the employer. It would be particularly burdensome to small business. Opponents to the initiative calculate that the average homebuilder will face an annual increase of about $1,093 per full-time employee if it passes.

Would lower costs make up for it? That's what the insurance companies argue, but a lot of small businesses aren't so sure.

The state's worker compensation system is due for major reforms, and the insurance industry ought to be at the table as changes are drafted.

But turning the entire task over to the industry and expecting even-handed reforms is foolish.

The Herald editorial board recommends voters reject Initiative 1082.

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