Is the Self-Insurers’ Security Fund Hiding Something?

By: J Dale Debber,  Publisher

“It is the public policy of this state that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and the proceedings of public agencies be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed.” So begins the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act.


Consider this statement in the context of the Self -Insurers’ Security Fund (SISF). And realize that the courts have held that the financial condition of insurers is appropriately a matter of public concern and discussion. A Self-Insured is clearly an insurer by any other name. And, lo and behold, “insurer” is even in the Self Insurers’ Security Fund’s name.


Consider, too, that CIGA – the California Insurance Guarantee Association – which performs the same guarantee function for traditional insurers that SISF does for private self-insureds, makes its Board and other meetings open, except for legal and personnel matters. It provides a wealth of financial and other data. Workers’ Comp Executive has a longstanding working relationship with CIGA and respects that not all of its data or information is public, nor should it be


And then understand that SISF refuses to open its meetings – Workers’ Comp Executive thinks in violation of Bagley Keene – or to make reasonable financial data available or answer reasonable questions when Workers’ Comp Executive asks. It operates in the opaque basement of secrecy and only sunshine can determine if it needs disinfectant.


The purpose of the SISF, per its website, is “managing the shared liabilities of workers’ compensation claims arising from companies that become insolvent.” These are insolvent private (not public agency) employers. It is an organization with nearly $800 million on hand – although no one can say who or what the money belongs to or, perhaps more importantly, what form it might be in – and what risk that may entail. No realistic or reasonable amount of public information is available.


The Legislature has given SISF extraordinary authority. Most of this was granted in 2012 when SB 863 became law. Such authority includes veto power over decisions made by the Department of Industrial Relations Office of Self-Insurance Plans (OSIP) in critical areas such as the amount of the solvency risk and security deposit and the return of excess security deposits. SISF can even decide whether a certificate to self-insure is granted to an employer with a period of unlawful uninsurance.


Pay attention to that, particularly the “return of excess deposits” part.


And Workers’ Comp Executive thinks you will agree that many (not all) of these decisions should properly be in the public interest, and to the extent they are, then they are also a proper subject for public review and discussion by the 4th estate which is properly the watchdog of government.


The Director of the Department of Industrial Relations, a gubernatorial appointee and public official sits ex officio as a non-voting member of the SISF Board. The Director may also share – and does – all financial, actuarial, or claims information received by the Director (or OSIP) with the Security Fund. I cannot think of a DIR Director (and I’ve known most of them) who had the financial acumen to make the decisions the SISF Board does.


The Legislature created the SISF, acknowledging it is a necessary component of a complete system of workers’ compensation, required by Section 4 of Article XIV of the California Constitution. The Fund serves a public function. It also exercises the regulatory authority granted to it by the Legislature by requiring its approval over various actions by OSIP relating to deposits.


Yes, the regulatory authority. Another subject that properly belongs in the public dialogue.


“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”  –– Bagley-Keene Act


But, not according to SISF. It maintains it is a private non-profit organization. Its meetings are not public; whatever information it decides to make available to the public is because of what it thinks is its sole discretion.


To be clear,  Workers’ Comp Executive understands and respects that some of the Board’s deliberations and much of SISF’s data may well be confidential. Also, some of the financial documents it receives may be confidential. That is clearly not the same as saying everything it does should be exempt from the transparency required of other entities charged with the public trust.


Bagley-Keene goes on to state:


“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”


Workers’ Comp Executive is committed to the principles of transparency embodied in many laws affecting California’s government. It is also committed to extending that transparency to the operations of SISF. And it respects the privacy of some of SISF’s data.


And now, SISF Board, it is up to you. The countdown begins, and we can tell it to you, or we can tell it to a judge—your choice.