12/09/2002 12:00AM

Cheaper workers' comp

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A program providing lower workers' compensation premiums for California Thoroughbred trainers went into effect over the weekend, providing relief to horsemen after months of stifling costs.

After lengthy negotiations with private insurance carriers, a deal was finalized last week with American Insurance Group.

The program does not offer lower rates than trainers paid in 2001, but does offer lower rates than previously offered this year through the government-backed State Fund.

Since February, when private companies stopped offering horsemen workers' comp policies, California trainers have had to buy insurance through State Fund, which charges more than the private companies. The California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California had been negotiating with private companies in the last six months to find lower-priced policies. The deal with AIG was finalized after more than three months of talks.

Horsemen were helped when legislation was passed earlier this year that allowed money to be diverted from a stabling and vanning fund and a marketing fund to help offset premium costs.

Not all trainers are participating in the AIG program. Although many of the trainers who bought policies from State Fund in July have made the switch to AIG, trainers who bought policies in March have been paying lower rates and would not save as much by switching. But many of those trainers are expected to switch to AIG next year.

For trainers who bought policies in July, base rates for backstretch employees fell from $48.40 per $100 of payroll to $31.28. Rates for jockeys mounts fell from $105 with State Fund to $73.81 with AIG. Additional discounts were available for experienced trainers and individuals who had a history of not submitting many workers' comp claims.

"The participation is what we expected," said Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. "It represents a significant percentage of the trainers. Next year, everyone will want to be part of it."

Halpern said trainers were required to sign up for the AIG program by last Friday. Those who didn't sign up then will be given another opportunity by Dec. 31.

The new program also includes a provision for out-of-state trainers. That provision applies to trainers bringing in horses for next year's World Thoroughbred Championships at Santa Anita.