After decades of paying penalty fees for keeping below-average track of its workers’ compensation claims, the city will see a 6 percent discount this year in its state workers’ comp premium.
This is the first time in its history that the city is not paying the penalty, said Rebecca Gerson, Youngstown’s first assistant law director who oversees the city’s workers’ compensation, and Kelly Loftus, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.
The city’s base rate this year is $550,811.45, but the BWC projects Youngstown will pay $517,762.77 with the 6 percent discount.
It’s a huge reversal from even 10 years ago when the city paid about $1.4 million for its premium — nearly three times the amount it is to pay this year.
Mayor Charles Sammarone praised Gerson for “the tremendous improvements that have been achieved in regard to the handling of workers’ compensation cases.”
He added: “Over a 10-year period, the city has reduced its workers’ compensation premiums by nearly $1 million.”
In 2003, the BWC had the city pay 168 percent of its base-rate premium amount because of a lack of oversight over its workers’ comp program.
It was twice as bad in 1993 when the city paid 338 percent of its base-rate premium for the same reason.
The rates are determined by a variety of issues including salaries, medical claims history, the cost of the claims, the number of injured employees who collect workers’ compensation, making sure injured workers are following proper medical procedures to return to work, and getting them back on the job — even light-duty work — as soon as possible, Gerson said.
But Gerson and Loftus differ on the main reason for the historic city discount.
Gerson said changes made since September 2011, when she took over the city program, are the primary reasons for the reduction.
That includes, she said, better management of the program.
“Claims are being monitored so we can manage them more effectively,” Gerson said. “We review claims every day. If someone is supposed to go to [physical] therapy, we make sure they go. If an employee is out for long, we see if it’s OK for them to return for light duty. We’re going in the right direction.”
While acknowledging improvements made by the city, Loftus said the reduction is largely the result of good investments by the BWC, making the agency more efficient, and having a focus on safety of workers.
“We’ve been able to build up our net assets to $8.3 billion,” Loftus said.