On June 30, Initiative 1082 supporters submitted more than 340,000 voter signatures to state officials, well over the 241,153 required to make the November ballot.
Officials will spend the next week verifying the signatures, and although on average they reject 18 percent of them, the I-1082 campaign is confident that its initiative will land a spot on the ballot and are already gearing up for the fall election season.
"A 100,000 signature margin virtually guarantees the initiative will be certified," read a June 30 campaign press release.
I-1082, which is backed by the conservative Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and supported by statewide business groups and private insurance companies, would allow private insurance agencies to offer workers' compensation plans in competition with the current state-run system.
Washington is one of four states that do not allow private agencies to offer workers' compensation insurance. At present, one-third of Washington state employers self-insure their employees under the state's supervision.
The opposition campaign, composed of small business owners and community leaders across the state, admits that the current system isn't perfect but contends that privatization will prove detrimental to state employers, employees and taxpayers.
"The top priority of our public system is making sure injured workers get the care and job retraining they need. This risky scheme will put profits ahead of caring for injured workers," reads a fact sheet put out by the recently formed No on I-1082 campaign.
Private insurance companies "will cherry-pick businesses that have low claims, forcing the remaining higher-risk businesses to pay higher premiums under the state plan," says No on I-1082 spokesman Alex Fryer. According to Fryer, states that have opened their workers' compensation plans to a private option have seen their premiums rise by 200 percent.
The initiative would allow insurers to set their own rates without the state Insurance Commissioner's approval, and it would eliminate the Insurance Guaranty Act, which is in place to protect workers and employers in the case of insurance fraud or bankruptcy.
According to Fryer, private insurers deploy a range of tactics to protect their profit margins, such as denying claims. "Under 1-1082, there's a provision that says the insurer will never have to tell you if a claim has been denied," he says.
I-1082 would also eliminate the current state mandate that employees pay a share of the state's premium costs, shifting this responsibility to employers. According to Fryer, this would increase small business owners' annual costs by 25 percent.
"I think it will be difficult getting voters focused on what they are actually voting on," he says of the challenges faced by the burgeoning opposition campaign, noting the initiative's fine print that includes a number of loopholes that serve to benefit the BIAW and private insurers. "And of course the insurance companies and BIAW have pretty deep pockets, so there will be a lot of resources thrown into this fight."
The opposition campaign has been endorsed by the Washington State Association for Justice, a legal bar association of plaintiffs' attorneys, many of whom focus on workers' compensation cases.
"We feel that I-1082 is a handout to the insurance industry and that it really profits off of injured workers and businesses, who end up shouldering the costs," says the group's communications director, Adrianne Williams. "Handing our public, non-profit system over to the private insurance industry is mostly to generate profits for the industry and less about getting injured workers back to work."
The Main Street Alliance of Washington, which represents small business owners, has also endorsed the opposition campaign.
"Right now we're still talking to people in the community to try to get them focused on this issue," Fryer says. "We'll expect to see a campaign unroll in the next couple of months."