North Dakota Needs To Privatize Worker's Compensation Insurance


Worker’s compensation insurance is not a free market in North Dakota. The state has, in law, a mandate that companies carry the insurance, and the only entity allowed to provide that insurance in the state is North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance, which is a government entity.

That creates a lot of problems for the state. The workers compensation agency is the subject of seemingly endless political drama (not unlike our university system, it seems). Business interests work to keep their insurance rates low. Unions and workers comp lawyers work to maximize the benefits paid out to workers, and to protect workers who might be defrauding the system from accountability.

The fighting over the agency is ceaseless, and a few years ago even resulted in a director of WSI (Sandy Blunt) being charged criminally in what were clearly politically-motivated proceedings.

There is controversy over workers compensation in the current legislative session too. On one side of the issue, HB1163 seeks to redefine when pain can be used as a justification for a workers compensation claim. On the other side of the issue, workers comp lawyers want to block the state from seeking second opinions from independent doctors on claims made by allegedly injured workers. SB2298 would require an administrative hearing before a second opinion could be sought, rather than allowing WSI to obtain one unilaterally.

Both of these bills are wrong-headed. Of course WSI should be able to obtain a second opinion. Once upon a time I was a private investigator who worked under contract for WSI to investigate fraud cases, and though I can’t speak to the specifics of most of the cases I worked because of confidentiality issues, I can tell you that in many cases I felt doctors were on the border of being in on the fraud.

And of course the legislature shouldn’t be enshrining in statute when pain is a valid reason to pay out on a claim.

Rather, the state ought to privatize worker’s compensation insurance. The taxpayers don’t need to be party to these conflicts between business and labor interests. I’m not a fan of insurance mandates in general, but moving North Dakota away from having a state-owned workers compensation insurance agency to simply having a mandate that businesses obtain insurance from private sources (sort of like the auto insurance mandate) would be a move toward smaller government, and less political bickering.