Pinnacol board pushes back against Miklosi transparency bill

Denver Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi has introduced legislation that seeks to change the make-up of the governing board of tax-exempt Pinnacol Assurance, the state’s largest workers compensation insurer. The bill seeks to diversify the perspective of the quasi-governmental business to include injured workers and open the board’s proceedings to greater public scrutiny. Miklosi is getting significant pushback from Pinnacol, which is most strongly opposed to the provision in the bill encouraging public comment on board deliberations.

Rep. Joe Miklosi

“I am getting pushback on the part of the bill that would allow for a reasonable amount of time for public comment– ‘reasonable amount’ meaning about 15 minutes,” a surprised Miklosi told the Colorado Independent.

He said that Pinnacol President and CEO Ken Ross, and members of the board, have said it’s inappropriate for outsiders to testify at the meetings.

“I mean [that position] just goes against everything in America, everything in transparency, everything about good government– even though [Pinnacol] is a quasi-government agency. People should be allowed to talk about policies that are good or bad, to praise or to criticize,” Miklosi said.

HB-1009 would change the composition of the board of the worker’s compensation insurer to include non-management members, an injured or once-injured worker and the executive director of the Colorado department of labor. It would also require the board to post the date, time, and location of board meetings on the Pinnacol website at least seven days in advance.

Miklosi said the main point of the bill was to diversify the perspective of the board. “If we are going to talk about injured workers, I wanted one on the board… It would provide a perspective [more reflective] of all the stake holders.”

As it stands, the bill now reads simply that the board would be required to “allow reasonable time for public comment at all board meetings” and includes no further elaboration on the definition of “reasonable.” Pinnacol, however, appears to oppose any public comment.

Suzi Stolte, associate vice president of communications and public relations at Pinnacol, told the Colorado Independent that it was premature to discuss the bill before the hearing this week. It is scheduled to be heard before the Judicial Committee on Thursday.

She did however direct attention to the legislative issues board at the Pinnacol website, which lists reasons why Pinnacol opposes the bill.

On opposition to public comment on board deliberations:

The bill is a back door attempt to make Pinnacol a state agency by imposing the public testimony provision. Stakeholders with concerns have access to Pinnacol board members and to management via other means.

Pinnacol is already subject to open meeting laws.

Other reasons Pinnacol opposes the bill:

Non-management employees may lack the knowledge necessary to be effective board members.

The bill does not adequately define an injured worker.

It may be a conflict of interest for the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to serve on the board.

Last year, lawmakers made headlines for weeks in an attempt to seize $500 million from Pinnacol to help balance the budget. Pinnacol and GOP lawmakers strongly resisted the effort but the wrangling raised questions about the status of the insurer, which started out as a government entity but which has become increasingly independent. This summer, lawmakers held Pinnacol hearings. Testimony brought complaints that Pinnacol’s profits were based on unfairly denying claims and praise for the efficient Pinnacol management that has managed to build the hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus that tempted lawmakers.

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