Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Post of the Year and Italian Moments

It's my last blog post of the year.

I was going to go out with a "bang," lots of fight, lots of pejoratives on whatever topic, person or process that I chose to pick on this morning; a vim, viger and vinegar type of thing.

There's no shortage of topics to go after, for sure.

There's the ongoing litigation between football players and their owners about where claims can be filed.

Texas report cards on carriers produced a surprise single poor performer.

North Carolina finally put some fee schedules in place but is still wrangling with dozens of other rules.

And the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that because the Penn Transportation Authority is not a branch of the state it is not immune from suit under the Federal Employees Liability Act.

But, 'tis the season as they say.

I'm tired! It's been a long, long year, and I met my personal goal of posting something on topic (workers' compensation), hopefully with some artful argument, and hopefully thought provoking, every single business day, including days when I've been sick (I actually don't think there were any) and days when I was on vacation (not really vacation - just away from my desk; I have a hard time shutting down...).

Here's what I've learned:

There's a lot of people in the workers' compensation industry who truly care about how their state (or Federal) system operates.

There's quite a difference in opinion on how workers' compensation should work, or what could be done to make it better.

The differences in opinion may be colored by a person's position in the industry or with a particular company, but often when out of the constriction of authorized speech I've found that many opinions are actually quite similar.

People hate fraud, whether it is being perpetrated by a claimant, vendor or insurance company representative.

People hate disparate treatment of like-situated individuals or companies.

People disagree about how to control costs in workers' compensation but generally agree that overall costs are too high. Some disagree about whether costs are even an issue.

Some are excited about the potential for carve-out programs, work injury insurance plans, and other alternative work injury protection systems, but seem to be pessimistic about whether such alternatives could actually co-exist with traditional systems.

Mostly though I've learned that the single biggest value people cherish in this industry is the network of other professionals.

Workers' compensation has gotten so complex, so specialized, that the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully navigate the system, let alone actually run a business in it that can make a profit, are hard to come by. Whether you're someone looking for work, or someone looking for a person with the right set of skills and knowledge - there just aren't enough people to do the hard work. Our network is special because our industry is so unique - those outside the industry can not relate whatsoever.

When I started out in workers' compensation around 1984, the managing partner of the law firm I worked for told me that work comp was not glamorous, was looked upon with disdain by those who didn't know the law, but that it wasn't ever going away and that those who kept their skills and knowledge up would always be able to make a living.

I agree with that.

Workers' compensation, for all of its faults, is a necessary component to the stability of the economy.

The cost of workers' compensation in the grand scheme of things is not that much relative to the gross payroll insured. Compared to general health, the medical component of workers' compensation is just a drop in the proverbial bucket.

But the beauty of work comp is that there it reduces the friction between the production of products or services and the delivery of same. It's a fine mineral oil - not perfect for all applications, but generally good enough to get the job done.

I suffer from this Italian-emotion malady. My dad did too, and so did my grandfather - who immigrated to Ellis Island from Italy. We get weepy-eyed with any small sentiment or emotion that might provoke some liberal gene in our systems.

I guess that's why Italians are artists....

I get weepy-eyed thinking about our industry, about the millions of people that we actually do help get better from their injuries or illnesses, that actually do put their indemnity benefits to good use to get back into the work force and become helpful, productive citizens.

We tend to focus on the outliers in this business - the ones that we can't help, can't fix, or that won't ever be fixed. Those are the challengers and they escape our notion of good beneficial social repair.

But in reality, the outliers are a very small percentage of the gross numbers that this industry takes care of. These outliers make for great blog columns, but really, after I've thumped my chest and placed a few good adjectives or adverbs in front of inflammatory nouns and verbs, they don't really affect the big picture.

And what is the big picture? We all pay into a system (employers are responsible for the actual payment, but that cost is spread out over the goods and services consumed by individuals) that we hope will be there for us on the day that we have the misfortune to need some assistance.

So during the next 11 days when I'm not complaining or whining about something in our system, pick out one file, one case, where there was a success, where a person injured in the course of work was timely provided treatment, benefits, and went back to work thankful that there was a job waiting. Offset those negative cases with the one positive case that makes working in this industry worth while.

I know, even when I was doing defense work, that I was proud - weepy Italian proud - to be able to close a case knowing that the injured worker really was taken care of, for I assumed that part of my job as a defense attorney was really just reducing the friction.

The kids got home from college last night. My wife got a new doggie for Christmas. We have YET to put up any decorations. So I'm going to enjoy the last few days of the year hoping that my comments in 2012 made some difference in the state of workers' compensation.

I thank you for reading. 2013 is going to be one heck of a year - all of us are going to need some rest before it starts.

So go home. Kiss your spouse, kids and new dog. Do whatever your family traditionally does for the holidays. Stay warm. Be safe.

And be proud that we work in the single largest privatized social benefit system in the world, second only to Social Security in the delivery of medical and indemnity benefits.

When you get down to it, workers' compensation, at its most basic function, is just taking care of people. I like taking care of people; makes my liberal Italian genes provoke those hormone induced weepy-eyes and that feels good.

I'll type at you January 2, 2013. Happy Holidays everyone.

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