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Employers to get workers comp rebate

BISMARCK -- North Dakota's workers' compensation program will send employers almost $160 million in payments as a distribution of surplus reserves.

The premium credits will go to about 22,000 employers throughout the state. They are the latest in a series of eight payouts to employers since 2005 totaling $774.3 million.

The payments mean employers in good standing will end up paying half their normal premium, according to a board member of Workforce Safety and Insurance.

"That is the maximum allowed by statute," Ed Grossbauer, an employee representative on the board, said Friday. "It also brings us into compliance with what the Legislature prescribes."

By law, WSI's reserves must range between 120 percent and 140 percent of expected claims. Surpluses are distributed to premium payers. The current fund surplus is $536.1 million, with total assets of almost $1.7 billion, according to figures from WSI.

"The size of the dividend credit reflects the growing amount of premium WSI is collecting," Bryan Klipfel, WSI's executive director, said in a statement. "The increase in premium is reflective of the growing economy in North Dakota."

Mark Schneider, a Fargo lawyer who represents injured workers, called the dividend credits "obscene" and said they show legislation passed in recent years to make it more difficult for workers to qualify for benefits was unnecessary.

"That surplus was done on the backs of injured workers," Schneider said, calling the vast surplus a "perversion."

Klipfel, through a spokesman, declined to comment on Schneider's allegations.

During the 2012 fiscal year, WSI collected net earned premiums of $250.5 million, up from $152.9 million in 2010. Net earned premiums are expected to reach $304.2 million in fiscal 2013.

Delinquent premiums also have risen sharply in recent years, climbing from $2.8 million in 2010 to $7.3 million in 2012. Employers with delinquent premiums are ineligible for the dividend credits.

North Dakota has the lowest workers' comp premiums in the nation, a national ranking shows.

North Dakota's premiums are 53 percent of the midpoint for the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to an index compiled by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

The next lowest is Indiana, at 62 percent of the national midpoint premium rate, the survey states.

The WSI board also announced a 10.3 percent cost of living adjustment for eligible injured workers, and an increase of 10.3 percent in the maximum weekly benefit to replace lost wages for disabled workers.

The cost of living increases, required by law, track the state's average weekly wage, which has risen sharply, in large part because of labor shortages stemming from the oil boom. The increases take effect July 1.

"I am personally very pleased to see the cost-of-living increases going out to workers," said Grossbauer, a Grand Forks firefighter.

The 10.3 percent increase is on top of an increase last year of more than 9 percent, Grossbauer said.

WSI's total paid costs, including medical bills and payments to replace lost wages for disabled workers, have risen from $113.5 million in 2010 to $134.3 million in 2012, and are projected to reach almost $171.8 million in fiscal 2013.