Monday, July 16, 2012

Intelligible Notices Are True Reform

If there is one thing that the current California workers' compensation administration is doing that is of utmost importance, it is the de-complication of the forms that are sent to injured workers.

Rosa Moran, administrative director of the Division of Workers' Compensation, said during the California Coalition on Workers' Compensation 10th annual Political and Educational Forum that her staff is rewriting benefit notices, which she described as "a mess."

I agree.

She said she struggled to understand the notices that are sent to injured workers despite having worked as a workers' compensation judge and an applicants' attorney.

As an example of the confusion the communication to an injured worker can create, Moran said division interns who reviewed the notices over the summer commented that a worker must have suffered a very serious injury to be declared permanent and stationary.

They assumed the phrase -- used by doctors to indicate that a patient has recovered as much as anticipated and the extent of any impairment can be determined -- indicated that a worker was in such bad shape that he was permanently required to remain stationary.

Moran said new notice letters that use simple language -- the target is a 6th grade reading comprehension level -- are almost complete, but she wants to present them to four or five focus groups before publicly introducing them. The new notices will be released "soon," she said.

If nothing else is accomplished by the administration, revising the benefit notice letters to injured workers will be a huge boon to the workers' compensation system in California.

A couple of years ago my wife had a very simple medical only workers' compensation claim - no lost time, very little medical treatment. In fact, the injury required only two doctor visits for the initial consultation/treatment and the final follow up.

The quantity of paperwork this claim generated and copied to my wife was astounding - at least a third of an inch thick for this very simple claim.

Worse, the notices were very threatening and used unintelligible language to those not versed in workers' compensation vernacular. My wife was truly alarmed by phrases, in bold, capitalized font, that essentially said that if she did nothing she would lose valuable rights and privileges.

I don't have any statistics or anything other than anecdotal evidence, but I believe that these notices drive many workers to attorneys for advise, and as a consequence what would otherwise be inconsequential claims end up litigated.

So I commend Ms. Moran and the administration for tackling this issue. Simply revising the various notices to make them non-threatening and intelligible at the 6th grade level will go far in terms of "reform". This is the kind of "reform" that is truly effective, and doesn't cost the system anything in return.

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