After watching its workers’ compensation and lawsuit costs soar for years, Los Angeles County officials on Monday said they are making progress in getting the problem under control, saving taxpayers more than $50 million in the past fiscal year. The county paid out $362 million in fiscal 2004-05 for legal judgments and settlements, workers’ compensation claims and related costs, down 12 percent from a record $413 million the previous year, a report released Monday says. “At first blush, it looks really good,” said Roxane Marquez, spokeswoman for Supervisor Gloria Molina, who spearheaded efforts to reduce the county’s costs. “I guess what taxpayers are getting is the knowledge that their money is being spent efficiently and effectively.” The report reflects a number of changes implemented by Risk Manager Rocky Armfield, who was hired by the Board of Supervisors in 2003 and ordered to help reduce costs. The county’s largest expense was workers’ compensation, which fell from a high of $324 million in 2003-04 to $273 million last fiscal year. “This was the first reduction ever,” Armfield said in an interview. “We cannot find anywhere in the county’s history of its trust fund for workers’ compensation where the costs decreased from one year to the next.” The workers’ compensation costs had been expected to reach more than $1 billion by 2010-11 without state and county reforms, but are now projected to reach about $400 million that year. “What we can say now is that it’s likely in 2011 we’ll have saved the county comfortably $600 million a year,” Armfield said. In addition to the impact of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reforms in reducing costs, the county has taken a number of steps to rein in its workers’ compensation costs, including a crackdown on fraud. Since 2001, 10 county employees have been convicted of workers’ compensation fraud and ordered to pay $506,200 in restitution. Those convictions are expected to save taxpayers $2.1 million in future costs. “We aggressively go after individuals in county government committing workers’ compensation fraud and work with the entities involved to send a message to employees that this type of conduct will not be tolerated,” said Lance Wong, head deputy of the district attorney’s Health Care Fraud Division. Armfield said any good fraud effort is going to serve as a significant deterrent. “It’s very difficult to measure that,” Armfield said. “How do you measure a claim that didn’t occur? It’s a good message to send. It’s not punishment, but a word of caution that we are dedicated to rooting out fraud and prosecuting it as appropriate.” In the report, Armfield noted that one area of continued concern involves public-safety employees who file several workers’ compensation claims during their careers – especially in the year preceding retirement – in an effort to maximize disability pensions. [email protected] (213) 974-8985 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!