By Shawn Ashley, eCapitol

The Workers Compensation Commission tabled action Thursday on a request from the Attorney General’s Office for funding for its workers’ compensation fraud unit. Commissioners first publicly discussed the request at their June meeting.

The Attorney General’s Office is requesting just over $794,000 to fund the unit, which investigates and prosecutes fraud on the part of claimants, doctors, attorneys and insurance companies.

Chairman Robert Gilliland said discussions had been ongoing since June, when commissioners unanimously approved a motion to seek more information from the Attorney General’s Office. “I have talked with the Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office,” said Gilliland.

Gilliland initially proposed the commission transfer $405,000 to the fraud unit. “I feel this is a reasonable amount of funding,” he said, adding he believed the unit could access funds from other sources, as well.

Commissioner Mark Liotta expressed reservations about supporting Gilliland’s motion until he had additional information.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Neal Leader, who provides legal assistance to the commission, said he did not believe the Attorney General’s Office could access other funds. The Workers Compensation Court of Existing Claims, which Leader said Gilliland had referenced in a memo about the issue, was not statutorily authorized to transfer money for the unit’s operation.

Gilliland’s motion to transfer $405,000 failed to receive a second. He made a motion that was seconded by Liotta to table the issue so that Liotta and Commissioner Leroy Young could be brought up to speed on the last information.

After the meeting, Gilliland said, “We take workers compensation fraud very seriously. I am not aware of a single case of workers’ compensation fraud in any case that has come before the commission. We are very, very careful about that and we will continue to support efforts to identify and prevent fraud.”

In other action Thursday, the commissioners directed Executive Director Kim Bailey to meet with the Attorney General’s Office to discuss the commission’s needs for a new general counsel. Bailey previously served in that role prior to being named executive director in June.

Each of the three commissioners questioned whether a full-time general counsel is needed by the commission. “I kind of like the idea of someone coming in here with a clean, objective viewpoint,” Liotta said of a possible part-time counsel. “I see some value in not having a full-time counsel.” Leader said he did not believe the commission needed a full-time counsel, unless that individual also was going to defend the commission when its cases are appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The commission also voted unanimously Thursday not to rename its counselors division. Gilliland said the purpose of the division was “…to advise and facilitate the smooth handling of claims, mostly focusing on the injured worker and helping them to navigate the system with difficulty.” Liotta said the idea to potentially change the name came from a discussion about what the division does. After discussing several alternatives, Liotta said the conclusion was that “counselor” was the “most appropriate and easiest for the public to understand.”

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