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Sviggum details workers' comp reforms

Minnesota's workers' compensation system isn't broken, but reform is needed to make sure it doesn't break down, said Steve Sviggum, commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Industry.

"It's best to do things in advance," Sviggum told a group of nearly 20 people Wednesday at the Red Wing Public Library. The Red Wing Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.

Sviggum, whose department oversees workers' compensation, has been traveling around the state soliciting feedback about Minnesota's $1.7 billion workers' compensation system, as well as drumming up support for reform.

Right now, four committees made up of labor, business, health care and insurance representatives are laying the groundwork for a new bill to be introduced during the 2009 legislative session.

Sviggum said the reform should bring "a little more efficiency, directness and fairness" to the system, while focusing it on injured workers and the companies they work for.

Specifically, he called for incentives for workers who get back on the job quickly, even if they're only capable of light work.

Also, Sviggum said the committees are looking to cut down on the amount of auditing and litigation within the system. He said the system should also do a better job of paying care providers in a timely fashion.

Some business owners at Wednesday's event had another issue on their minds -- fraud.

"Fraudulent claims have been very costly," said Scott Sodergren, who owns Red Wing Express Employment Professionals.

Sviggum said only a small percentage of compensation claims are founds to be fraudulent, but the committees are looking at the issue.

Others present Wednesday said they liked the spirit of Sviggum's ideas but weren't certain about specific proposals. Sviggum tried to clarify potential changes but also said, "Any reform will be a little scary to everyone."

The state's $1.7 billion system for treating and rehabilitating Minnesotans who have been injured on the job is in better shape than it was 20 years ago, when rates charged to employers were two to three times higher than in neighboring states, Sviggum explained to a group earlier in Willmar, Minn.