When Gov. John Kasich asked me to lead the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, he made it clear that my job was to better understand and work with our stakeholders to better serve employers and injured workers.
That's why during the past three years, I've travelled the state meeting with nearly 175 different employer, labor and industry groups. Through these discussions we have strengthened our partnership with stakeholders and made great strides in making our workers' compensation system an asset to Ohio.
A defining moment of this year was Kasich's Billion Back program, which issued $1 billion in rebates to nearly 200,000 public and private employers over the summer. These rebates, made possible by prudent fiscal management and investment strategies, ranged from $5 all the way up to several million dollars for employers across the state. I've received handwritten thank-you notes telling me the many ways they put their rebates to use. Whether they purchased new safety equipment, hired new employees or stowed that money away for the future, each employer, public and private, were able to invest in the future success of their operations in Ohio.
While the rebates provided a significant boost to Ohio's economy, they are just one part of the Billion Back plan. I've been fortunate to tour the facilities of companies that are putting employee safety first - from American Fan Co. in Butler County to Mast Farm Services and Industrial Timber and Lumber in Holmes County, and many more in between.
We want to keep their momentum going, and encourage all employers to make investments in protecting their workers. That's why we tripled the amount of workplace safety grants available to employers from $5 million to $15 million, increased the BWC match and lifted the lifetime cap on awards. It's one way we're partnering with employers to keep all Ohioans safe on the job.
The final piece of the plan includes modernizing our billing system to provide more flexibility for employers at a reduced cost. This change aligns BWC with standard industry practice of collecting premiums before extending coverage. As we move from billing in arrears to billing in advance in 2015, BWC will issue businesses an estimated $1 billion in credits to cover the cost of transitioning.
The Billion Back plan was just one highlight of a busy 2013. We also:
Reduced average base rates, saving Ohio's private employers $224 million in premiums and public employers an estimated $70 million over three years;
Worked with managed care organizations to streamline the claims process and more quickly overcome obstacles to an injured worker's safe and effective return to work; and
Improved the efficiency and effectiveness of our pharmacy management, leading to better patient care while reducing prescription narcotics and saving more than $22 million.
The next year is shaping up to be an even busier one for BWC. Instituting a new policy and claims management computer system, preparing for our new billing process, transitioning to the new ICD-10 medical coding requirements, more aggressively promoting safety and improving medical delivery are all major initiatives that will positively impact employers, injured workers and providers.
One thing is certain - as we rise to meet these challenges, we will continue to work with our partners to make Ohio's workers' comp system the absolute best.
(Buehrer is the administrator and chief executive officer of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.)