AUGUSTA – One bill pegged to go down in Maine next year: workers’ compensation premiums.

Paul Dionne, executive director of the Workers’ Compensation Board, said the superintendent of insurance has signed off on a proposed 7.6 percent reduction in rates next year.

Every year the National Council on Compensation Insurance gives the state rate advice based on the past year’s events: More workplace accidents means rates ought to go up, fewer means they ought to go down.

NCCI recommended a 7.6 percent reduction. The superintendent adopted it.

It’s up to insurance companies to decide whether to follow that advice, Dionne said, but in past years most have patterned rates after that recommendation.

Businesses ought to see the difference as they lock in 2009 premiums, he said. Exceptions that can raise those rates: If a company has hired more people or had more accidents of late.

Since 1993, when Maine adopted comp reforms after increasingly turbulent, costly times, rates have dropped 43 percent, Dionne said. “Maine is trending in the right direction.”

He pointed to three factors behind the state’s improvement: an emphasis on safety programs by Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co., which holds the bulk of private policies in Maine, and by the state’s self-insureds – both mean fewer accidents – and in his boards’ regulation of the system.

“Claims are paid in a more timely manner and fewer claims are being controverted,” or contested, Dionne said.

For example, Wal-Mart some years ago used to contest 80 percent of its injury claims, which flagged it for extra attention from the board.

“Now, Wal-Mart has almost reached the gold standard. It (disputes) fewer cases, which means fewer cases in the system,” he said.

MEMIC spokesman Michael Bourque said his company has 40 safety people in the field working with customers at any time. Dropping rates are evidence that it is paying off.

“That’s real money at a time when people can use it,” he said, referring to the new rate cut.

The decrease comes on the heels of MEMIC returning about 10 percent of 2005 premiums to policy holders, a total of $15 million to Maine businesses.

“As a mutual company, we don’t have stockholders to pay; we pay our policy holders,” Bourque said.

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