Tuesday, February 14, 2012

WCAB Appointment a Start at Economic Confidence

California Governor Jerry Brown showed the workers' compensation community a little love yesterday in advance of Valentine's Day by appointing a new commissioner to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB).

In a press release from the Governor's office naming appointments to about a dozen different boards and commissions, it was announced that Marguerite Sweeney of Redding, an applicant attorney for 33 years, will fill one of the three vacant commissioner positions.

In addition to the commissioner appointment, the Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC) has been aggressively hiring judges, bolstering the ranks of adjudicators that had been getting thinned out for a couple of years, ostensibly due to state budget woes even though DWC is separately funded from insurance premium taxes and takes no money from the General Fund.

(I had been told that DWC's austerity existence was because the Brown Administration did not want any agency to appear as though it was doing better than some other agency while the state tackled its lack of money.)

Brown had said earlier that he wasn't inclined to deal with any workers' compensation legislation, at least until the house's finances were in order. That the Brown Administration is paying attention to workers' compensation from an administrative standpoint is great news for the industry, and the economy of California (if not the rest of the country).

Workers' compensation is a king pin for the economy, providing stability in the work force and protections for employers and employees that are necessary to stay competitive. And a stable California economy is critical to the rest of the nation.

In order for workers' compensation to function properly there must be an efficient, well staffed, adjudicatory body to air disputes, clarify the law, and process litigated claims as quickly as humanly possible.

The back log of litigation at the District Offices, and at the WCAB, has grown tremendously despite a drop in the litigation rate because of the dearth of workers' compensation judges (WCJs) and shortage on the WCAB.

This backlog does a disservice to employers because claims do not get resolved and closed timely, which inflames the experience modification factor to employer policies, adding an unnecessary inflation to the premium cost.

And workers with claims in litigation are likewise harmed when their cases can't get heard, or are delayed due to lack of staffing, protracting the case and delaying the delivery of benefits if due and closure for the worker.

There is still plenty to do, however. Two positions remain unfilled at the WCAB level, and while there are still WCJ spots to fill, clerical positions also need to be hired.

I type (and talk) all the time about the value in workers' compensation, and how we as an industry need to embrace providing value in our work.

Likewise, the Brown Administration should continue to look at the value of workers' compensation to the economy. Proper functioning of the workers' compensation system is necessary for the economic recovery of California and the rest of the nation.

I urge the Brown Administration to continue its work on the economy by completing the task of filling the open positions on the WCAB, and let the DWC complete its mission by ensuring it is fully staffed.

Part of all economic activity is directly tied to confidence. The people must be confident that there is a dollar to earn, a dollar to save, a dollar to spend. Economic confidence is a top down equation - the leadership must be confident in order for the people to feel confident.

Making key appointments is a big part of top down confidence leadership.

Mr. Brown, we appreciate your Valentine's Day greeting. Now show us your love the rest of the year by making the WCAB whole again.workers compensation, work comp, injured worker

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