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Workers Comp pitches new plan

For some time, officials of the Workers Compensation Fund of Utah have been telling people that 24-hour health-care coverage is coming to Utah, and now he has proof that it has arrived.

At the recent meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Workers Compensation Fund of Utah, Lane Summerhays, fund president, presented two examples of companies selling 24-hour coverage - something the fund is prevented by law from doing.Twenty-four-hour coverage combines workers' compensation insurance coverage that pays medical and wage benefits to people injured on the job with regular health-care coverage for people injured away from the job. It allows people to deal with only one health-care system.

Summerhays has been saying for several months that in order for the fund to compete with other insurance carriers it must be given some latitude in developing insurance programs other than only workers' compensation.

Several people testifying during the commission's meetings believe the current workers' compensation insurance system in Utah is working and it should not be changed. Some have suggested the fund be privatized - a move that would eliminate its current quasi-public status.

In 1917, the Legislature established the fund so that injured workers would have a source of medical and wage benefits while they were recuperating. The fund was mandated as the "carrier of last resort," meaning it had to insure any company walking through the front door. The law also allows companies to be self-insured, or they can get insurance by private carriers.

Even though the fund has more than 50 percent of the workers' compensation insurance market in Utah, Summerhays believes the organization should be given more latitude in what it can sell in order to compete with the private carriers.

He distributed some advertising material from Business Insurance Co. about 24-hour coverage being offered in Utah. Summerhays said he learned that BICO's Combined Benefits Insurance Service program has been sold to Employee Leasing Management, a company that formerly had its workers' compensation insurance with Liberty Mutual.

Mark Escobedo, a marketing underwriter for the insurance in Utah, acknowledged the ELM deal, but added that his company has sold $6 million in insurance premium to eight accounts in the last year.

Escobedo said he has mixed feelings about allowing the fund to sell 24-hour coverage because he believes competition is good, but "the jury is still out on whether the fund should sell it."

Summerhays also produced an article from the Utah Home Builder's Association newsletter that talks about 24-hour coverage offered by Wasatch Crest Insurance Co. That article said injuries occurring at work are covered by workers' compensation insurance and injuries occurring away from work at covered by the usual health-care plans.

The 24-hour coverage from Wasatch Crest, called Care24, offers a single insurance company with integrated claims and administration systems. "This will save valuable time and costs for businesses and help insurance administrators concentrate on business purposes," the article said.

Summerhays believes the fund's board of directors should decided what types of insurance it can sell and not be restricted by the Legislature. He said it takes plenty of lead time to determine whether the fund wants to get involved in new insurance programs and extensive study is needed so the fund will make the right moves.