CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 240 insurance companies have filed to carry workers' compensation insurance in West Virginia, but one company maintains half of the business in the state.
That would be BrickStreet Insurance, the Charleston-based company formed as a quasi-private company when the state decided to privatize its workers' comp business.
For a couple of years, BrickStreet was the only game in town, and all of the state's workers' comp business went there. Since July 2008, other companies have been allowed to participate in the workers' comp market. As of mid-August, 241 workers' comp carriers had filed with the state Insurance Commission.
But as of the end of last year, BrickStreet still handled 50 percent of the workers' comp premiums in the state, according to the Insurance Commission.
BrickStreet officials say the privatization has been a rousing success. They say employers' workers' comp costs have been cut in half, and workplace injuries are reported more quickly.
"Claimants are also receiving quicker care and better care today," said Greg Burton, BrickStreet's president and CEO.
"In 2006, only 10 percent to 15 percent of claims came in within 48 hours after the accident. Today, it is 50 percent," Burton said. "Medical costs are also going down. BrickStreet is working with health-care providers to get people back to work more quickly."
T.J. Obrokta Jr., BrickStreet's senior vice president and general counsel, said, "The old system generated a lot of litigation. Today, that litigation has dropped by 70 percent."
Protests about claims decisions have also dropped, Obrokta said, from about 25,000 protests in 2006 to only a projected 5,000 this year.
Both Burton and Obrokta worked for the old state Workers' Compensation Division, and moved to BrickStreet under privatization. The move was initiated under former Gov. Bob Wise and completed under former Gov. Joe Manchin.
Sue Howard, a Wheeling lawyer who has represented workers' comp claimants for many years, believes privatization "has become problematic for claimants dealing with Workers' Comp insurance carriers who are out of state and not well-trained in West Virginia law.
"It has been a nightmare for certain claimants who get claims mangers who don't properly administer their claims.
"There needs to be more information provided to injured workers about how to file complaints with the Insurance Commissioner when conduct is improper," Howard said.
"When BrickStreet started operating [in 2006], it was able to hire a lot of claims adjusters from the old West Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission, who had more experience and training. I see fewer problems with BrickStreet than with other private carriers. I think it is a training issue," Howard said.
BrickStreet also has its critics. Charleston lawyer James Humphreys, a former Democratic state senator and congressional candidate, opposed the privatization of workers' comp in the Legislature.
"BrickStreet has made an ungodly amount of money," Humphreys said. "Workers' compensation should not be about profits for a corporation. It should be about protecting and supporting injured workers.
Last year, BrickStreet collected $250.6 million in premiums and incurred $102.3 million in losses, according to its annual statement filed on Dec. 31, 2011. The company's net income was $47.1 million