Or more accurately, how to make workers' compensation more relevant to the modern economy.
The International Association of Industrial Accidents Boards and Commissions is hosting round tables across the nation to get the conversation going. Others are hosting parallel events. The concern is that work comp no longer serves its stated purpose of providing job injury protection to workers at a reasonable cost to business.
There have also been several attempts over the past couple of decades to unify work comp with the overall health care system - the argument is logical: at the base is just medical care, so why are there so many different silos providing it?
Colorado has been the vanguard of progressive (okay, liberal) policies. The people of The Centennial State thumbed the Feds with regards to marijuana, and now they are about to show the rest of the nation how health care should be provided.
On the ballot for November is the Colorado voter initiative that would create ColoradoCare, which would pay for medical treatment provided to all residents of the state, including those who are hurt on the job.
"ColoradoCare shall assume responsibility for payment of all reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred by workers who suffer injuries or illnesses arising out of and in the course of their employment after the date ColoradoCare assumes responsibility for health care payments," the ballot measure says.
The proposed law would levy a 3.33% payroll tax on workers and a 6.67% payroll tax on employers, as well as a 10% health care premium tax on non-payroll income to raise $25 billion to pay for medical care. A 21-person board of trustees would be created to oversee the program.
Employers would still have to carry some kind of workers’ compensation insurance coverage to provide indemnity benefits. That's a detail that initiative proponents say would be left to lawmakers to figure out - their singular goal is to consolidate health care and eliminate the myriad of silos that create delay, confusion and ultimately heath care consumer angst.
Tony Gagliardi, Colorado state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, told WorkCompCentral, “I don’t think the general population even has a clue of what this would mean for workers’ comp.”
Well, the general population has no idea what work comp even is in the first place, and that plays well into the hands of initiative proponents. Ballot initiatives work on the KISS theory - why complicate the issue?
The ballot initiative will eliminate the liability contest for medical care - someone claiming an injury or illness will get treatment regardless of cause or circumstance.
“The intent is to eliminate that situation and guarantee, at a minimum, whoever is hurt will have access to medical treatment,” said Ralph Ogden, a former workers’ compensation claimants’ attorney who served as chairman of the committee that drafted the initiative language.
Work comp wonks fret about the details: what about transient workers, what about return to work, what about this and that...
Folks, it doesn't matter.
Work comp has a bad reputation with the public. People that aren't in the industry don't care about who pays for what, when or why. All they see is insurance companies making money off the unfortunate.
They know the stories that have been published in the general media about people hurt at work that can't get the medical care that is supposedly due them.
At the base, political, level the proposal for ColoradoCare is very simple: citizens get medical care regardless of cause or circumstance. That's a very tough message to defeat.
I predict the measure will pass, and Colorado, again, will be a proving ground for liberal nose thumbing of the establishment.
And if it works, work comp will be forever changed.