L & I seeks to raise workers' comp premiums

RICHLAND -- The Department of Labor and Industries is proposing to increase workers' compensation insurance premiums for 2010 about 7.6 percent on average.

That means average premiums would go up by about 4 cents per hour worked, state officials said.

The state-run workers' compensation system collects insurance premiums from businesses to cover costs for medical care and wage-replacement and pension benefits for workers who are injured on the job.

The proposed increase, which would bring in an additional $120 million, is an average for all Washington employers. Individual employers could see their rates go up or down, depending on their recent claims history and any changes in the frequency and cost of claims in their industry.

L&I will soon be publishing online the proposed 2010 rate tables by industry.

A series of six public hearings on the proposed rates will be held in late October. A meeting in Richland is set at 2 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Richland Hampton Inn, 486 Bradley Blvd.

Comments also can be mailed and faxed through Nov. 7.

Write to Ronald Moore, employer services program manager, at or at the Department of Labor & Industries, P.O. Box 44140, Olympia, 98504-4140.

Faxed comments should go to 360-902-4729.

Washington's workers' compensation system is made up of three funds that provide benefits when workers are hurt on the job. Under L&I's proposal, the Accident Fund rate would increase 4.5 percent. Employers pay premiums in this fund.

The Medical Aid Fund rate would go up by 8.4 percent, and the Supplemental Pension Fund rate would increase 16 percent. Workers and employers contribute equal premiums to both funds.

The proposed increase is less than an earlier projected increase of 15 percent to 20 percent on average, officials say.

"I know that any increase adds to the challenges that businesses and workers face in this tough economy," said Judy Schurke, director of L&I. "We have pushed this proposed rate increase down to the lowest possible level given the uncertain state of our recovery from this deep recession."

The ongoing tough economic conditions, which have resulted in reduced investment returns, fewer premiums and fewer jobs, have affected premium rates, together with health care cost inflation of 8.5 percent and wage inflation of 3.4 percent.