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The high injury rate among workers in the plastics industry has other states closely watching Ohio's transfer of the medical care responsibilities of its Bureau of Workers' Compensation to managed care organizations in the private sector.

The shift is of particular interest to plastics companies, a number of which have come under special scrutiny by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration because of worker injury rates above the industrial norm.

In Ohio, where the governor's office reports there are about 1,500 plastics industry-related companies, a BWC spokesman said the agency operates on a budget of $250 million a year. In 1995, the most recent year for which statewide data is available, 336,000 workers' compensation claims were filed.

James Conrad, the bureau's administrator, says that by shifting the medical care of injured workers to state-approved managed care groups, a 15-30 percent savings in workers' compensation costs eventually could be realized.

The new program is scheduled to take effect March 1, and by Jan. 1, all bureau claims are expected to be managed by MCOs, according to Conrad. Businesses had until Feb. 15 to select from among 57 state-certified MCOs to care for their injured workers. The state will assign MCOs to companies that failed to select one.

Conrad says the program ensures that injured workers will have easier access to quality health care. He said MCOs will not be paid simply for returning injured employees to work, but rather for ensuring they have received the proper care necessary for them to continue working.

It's a measure of how effectively BWC has worked with labor unions, business organizations and other groups with an interest in the issue that the privatization program has occurred without controversy. Conrad claims that is because real attention was given to the quality-of-care issue, as well as to controlling costs for employers.

If both goals are met, Ohio will have created a sensible model for other states to adopt. Fortunately, each goal is clearly definable, and soon it will be evident to employees and employers whether Ohio has come up with a better idea.