Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Metaphysics of Work Comp

Life takes surprising turns sometimes, which is what makes it so interesting.

Very early yesterday morning Mom went into the hospital.

Remember Mom has dementia, but otherwise has been in excellent health save for an occasional infection or two, quickly remedied with some antibiotics.

But the message I got at 3 a.m. was that Mom was short of breath, flushed in the face and perhaps running a fever.

So I flew on down to Oceanside to see what was going on.

When I arrived Mom was asleep. Her nurse explained the current working diagnosis was pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

Hmmm - that's exactly what put Dad in the downward spiral to his current stable, but degenerative state.

A course of antibiotics, rest, fluids, etc., the nurse expected hospitalization for several days. Then of course likely release to therapy.

This has made Dad distressed.

To me, it's amazing how things in life just seem to revolve back around to status quo. Dad is caregiver, gets sick and near death, Mom gets matronly within her abilities, gets sick ... Perhaps this IS one of those stories where the couple that's been married for 69 years (yep!) exit life together.

There are connections that defy the physical world: metaphysics.

It's sort of like this in workers' compensation. Work comp has been married to the economy for over 100 years. It has evolved with the economy in some respects, and in other respects, like a married couple, has taken on its own interests.

There are people concerned with fraud. Others have concern with maximizing benefits to injured workers.

Courts weigh in on whether a disability rating is "correct." And legislators tinker with systems in response to some perceived issue.

Workers' compensation responds to economic issues long before any economist declares the existence of a trend.

Sometimes we engage in lengthy debate about the efficacy of certain programs or policies.

But we always come back to the basic question of whether there is a reasonable compromise between an employer's liability for work injuries and an employee's need for medical treatment and compensation.

The basic workers' compensation premise, as we all know, was that an employer gave up certain common law defenses against an injured worker's claim and the injured worker gave up the possibility of a big money judgment, all in exchange for a promise by the employer to provide without dispute medical treatment and some money at a defined level.

The reason it is called "workers' compensation" is because it is part of the employment package - it IS compensation because there is only one payer, the employer, and basically only one recipient, the employee.

We debate whether calling this system a different name would engender beneficial change, and we concern ourselves with the cost of one program over another.

When we get down to the basics though there is only one mission. That mission is to provide medical treatment and money to injured workers. Of course this simple concept gets diluted when deployed on the grand scale, but when all the layers are peeled back we still get to the same basic premise.

That premise hasn't changed despite over 100 years of marriage to the economy.

It's the metaphysics of workers' compensation; we can't explain this phenomenon with basic physical attributes. And while we can change some of the operating details, the grand scheme has remained the same through the years.

I wonder if Mom and Dad will exit this world together, or at least close in time to be considered rather synchronous.

I hope workers' compensation doesn't exit this world though - if that happens then I fear we have much bigger problems with our economy, and society, than whether or not a premium is too high, or a worker isn't getting enough money.

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