At a time when state lawmakers are studying how Texas treats workers who get injured or killed on the job, the commissioner of workers' compensation, Rod Bordelon, abruptly announced his resignation last week.
Bordelon’s resignation came as a surprise to insurers and workers’ advocates. He announced the decision internally on Friday, and word of it quickly spread though the community of lawyers and insurers specializing in injured worker issues.
“Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to the organization and to making Texas a model for effective regulation,” Bordelon said in a statement emailed to agency staff. “You have much to be proud of and I am privileged to be part of it.”
Bordelon’s resignation takes effect on Aug. 1.
Lawyers who represent injured workers in disputes with insurance companies have complained that Bordelon's Division of Workers’ Compensation, which falls under the Texas Department of Insurance, is too cozy with insurers it is supposed to regulate. But insurance companies praised the gubernatorial appointee for treating them fairly.
John Davis, a San Antonio lawyer who represents workers in disputes with insurance companies, said Bordelon had “good intentions” but has overseen rules changes that have taken away autonomy from the hearing officers who perform the role of judges in benefit disputes. He said that has made it increasingly hard for workers to win their cases.
“Insured workers are losing their claims at an historically high rate," Davis said. "Suffice to say, over the last six years it has grown progressively more difficult for injured workers to secure a hearing and prove their claims."
The Texas House Business and Industry Committee has launched a study of the workers' compensation system leading up to the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature. Texas is the only state in the country that doesn't require private employers, regardless of size, to offer workers' compensation insurance or a private equivalent to cover their employees.
About two-thirds of employers do carry the coverage. But Bordelon recently acknowledged in a Business and Industry Committee hearing that injured workers are losing a greater percentage of major disputes at his agency, which operates a court-like system for determining awards of benefits.
“It certainly has been the case that those injured workers are losing more cases,” Bordelon told the committee in April.
He said in a recent interview with The Texas Tribune that the state has “a terrific system” for injured workers, and he noted that workers' compensation claims and rates for coverage have dropped signficantly on his watch. He also said that when insurers act irresponsibly, he punishes them with fines.
“I think we’re tying to do the right thing,” he said. “We are penalizing more and more carriers for inappropriate denials.”
The Insurance Council of Texas, a trade assocation made up of insurance companies, praised Bordelon.
“Through all of his years in state service Commissioner Bordelon has always been able to work with insurers to see that every company was treated fairly,” said the group’s director, Albert Betts.
Bordelon previously served as chief of the Office of Public Insurance Counsel. He was appointed to both posts by Gov. Rick Perry.
“The governor appreciates Rod’s leadership and commitment to serving Texas and wishes him well in the future,” said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/06/10/tx-workers-comp-comissioner-resigns/.