Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jerry Macguire's Work Comp

As one would expect, the various groups representing vendors to the California workers' compensation system have gone on full attack mode against the pending proposed reform bill.

I can't blame them - what is being proposed is a big change to how claims are to be managed from both a medical and legal perspective. The changes are big to physicians and attorneys, both of whom will likely be adversely affected by the changes.

The California Applicants’ Attorneys Association (CAAA) released an “action alert” asking members to contact state senators and assembly members to stop any reform bill from moving forward.

CAAA President Brad Chalk wrote, “We concluded that this proposed legislation is worse than SB 899” (the Schwarzenegger era reform bill that was pushed through a late night session at the last minute against the threat of a voter referendum on the issues).

Crrondeau wrote in the WorkCompCentral Forums: "The single most important question that I have for anyone who would defend SB 863 is this: "Where is the crisis?" The answer is obvious; there isn't any. This is not 2004. The business pages are not filled with stories of employers being forced out of business or out of state because of the cost of workers' compensation insurance. This bill is nothing more than a "bait and switch". The PD increases for the most severely disabled will be meaningless because they will never be able to get ratings that entitle them to what they are entitled to under current law. That is the plain and honest truth."

And in response to questions from Oakland applicant attorney Julius Young about a supposed study by a UC Hastings law school professor on the Independent Medical Review (IMR) process, Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) Director Christine Baker claimed that such a study was not procured by either DIR or the Commission on Health Safety & Workers' Compensation (CHSWC).

Baker added, "I am shocked that you think that maintaining status quo is better than pouring 700 million new dollars into benefits and redirecting the dollars from certain add ons and fecs for an additional billion."

First, I am not going to pass judgment on the proposed bill at this time, a) because it has not been formalized, and b) WE HAVE NO DATA to judge whether this law does or doesn't do what either of its proponents or opponents declare it will do.

Here's what I do know.

Governor Jerry Brown has publicly stated on numerous occasions that there will be no permanent disability indemnity increase unless there is wholesale reform of workers' compensation such that any increase is paid for out of savings.

The proposed reform was negotiated between two constituencies that represent less than 13% of the total working population and less than 5% of all employers in California, in top secrecy.

This was either during or after the DIR road show that gathered "public comment" on how to "fix" California's workers' compensation system.

Presumably these two constituencies had access to studies, numbers, spreadsheets, prognostications, actuarial analysis and other number-crunching facilities to proclaim a 2 for 1 cost-benefit ratio, but there has been great effort (if not outright subterfuge) to keep those numbers out of the hands of anyone that may review, analyze and criticize it (including WorkCompCentral's request for public records to which just an answer, let alone the actual documents, has been delayed by DIR until at least August 27 under the guise of a legal technicality that should have nothing to do with the existence of, or completeness of, such data).

The last day of this legislative session is August 31... wouldn't it be convenient if the data didn't make it to the public's hands until after the law is passed?

Tomorrow an "informational hearing" is expected to introduce the bill, which likely will be publicly released this afternoon. I have to assume that this release will be accompanied by statistical conclusions supporting the cost-benefit declarations.

But will DIR release the actual studies and data at that time?

Or will the public have to take the word of the Administration that the numbers really do work out?

In the end, does it matter? When legislation is handled in this top-secret, rush to the pen manner, it is because someone, somewhere along the food chain doesn't want too much debate or review - that delays passage and implementation.

Governor Brown may, or may not, run for reelection - but a Democrat signing legislation that could be supported by numbers, right or wrong, that brings both alleged savings to employers and an alleged benefit increase to workers is a political coup and a nice legacy.

And if the numbers prove to be erroneous - well, that's not the Governor's fault. He was relying on his experts to get the job done.

Baker may be shocked that some want to maintain the status quo.

I am shocked that the government won't be truthful or forthcoming enough to give the public access to the same information they have in pushing this law change through.

While CAAA is upset that the proposed law will eviscerate worker's due process rights, everyone should be upset that the manner in which this "reform" is being handled is an usurpation of the democratic process.

To paraphrase Cuba Gooding Jr in his role in Jerry Macguire, "Show me the data."

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