Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let the Man Do His Job

The political nature of workers' compensation is being played out in Iowa, a state that is used to being in the political spotlight during national election years as the first state to vote in presidential primaries since 1972.

Rates in Iowa have increased 17.3% during the course of the past 4 years and this has Republicans who back the governor on the offensive.

That averages out to 4.325% per year which is too much for Iowa Republicans to bear, so they are calling for the head of Commissioner Chris Godfrey.

Iowa state Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, authored an editorial published by the Des Moines Register newspaper on Oct. 28 complaining that Godfrey was biased and too eager to award injured workers benefits.

This is part of a campaign by supporters of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who upon election called for the resignation of Godfrey.

Godfrey refused. He said that he was entitled to serve out the rest of his term, which ends in April 2015.

So the Governor took vengeance by slashing Godfrey's salary from the statutory maximum of $112,069 to the statutory minimum of $73,250.

The salary cut prompted Godfrey to file employment discrimination suits against Branstad that are now pending in both state and federal courts. The suits contend that Branstad discriminated against Godfrey because he is gay and affiliated with the Democratic Party.

Godfrey was first appointed into office by Democrat Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2006 and reappointed by Gov. Chet Culver in 2009.

In the meantime state Republicans have been aggressive towards Godfrey, stating that he hands out money.

Godfrey says he is simply following long standing case law that interprets the state's labor laws.

Iowa has held its ground against pressure to compete on workers' compensation laws against neighboring states for business.

Neighboring states have reformed their laws to reduce benefits by changing qualifying standards for benefits. So those states are held out as examples by Republicans against Godfrey and the state's system.

But Godfrey correctly notes that Iowa is one of only four states that don't have any medical fee controls in place, and says the statistics implicate the rising cost of medical benefits as the genesis for rate increases, not actual benefits paid on claims that have close fact patterns.

"I believe Iowa is one of only four states in the country that has no medical cost containment," he told WorkCompCentral. "We do not have a mechanism in our statute, we do not have a fee schedule, we don't have treatment guidelines. Many people would say that is a good thing, but I also say that makes it unlikely for us to enjoy the stability that we have had over the last 20-some years. Medical care costs are 61 cents out of every premium dollar, and if we do not control those medical costs, that is going to be pretty devastating."

Iowa hasn't made any radical changes to its system in 30 years, which likely contributes to the state's relative stability when compared to more active, reform-minded, states. Godfrey notes that rates, on an inflation adjusted basis, are the equivalent of what they were in 1994.

Certainly we can't say that what happens in Iowa workers' compensation is indicative of trends nationally like in national elections, but we can say that politics and workers' compensation generate muddy results. We see this time and time again.

Godfrey said Tuesday that some Republicans have been more vocal about their opposition to him in recent weeks because they fear that his lawsuits will go to trial. Maybe that's true.

In which case the right thing to do is to stop with this misguided political folderol, reinstate Godfrey's salary, and let the man do his job.

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