Thursday, October 22, 2015

Not Our Obituary

John Coll's bronze of Brendan Behan

The negative image of workers' compensation and it's opt-out partner painted by the general media in the past couple of years is catching the eyes of some federal lawmakers.

Though opinion as to whether there is political will for the federal government to wallow into such a sacred state issue is mottled.

10 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter Tuesday to U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez asking the Department of Labor to report on how it will reinstitute oversight of state workers’ compensation programs, what areas it intends to address and whether added authorities are needed to protect the interests of injured workers and taxpayers.

The letter was signed by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Senators Sherrod Brown, Patty Murray, Al Franken, Ron Wyden and U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson, Chris Van Hollen, Bobby Scott, Sander Levin and Xavier Becerra.

DOL spokeswoman Laura McGinnis said the department is reviewing the letter and looks forward to working with stakeholders on solutions.

“We share their concerns,” McGinnis said in an email to WorkCompCentral. “Every year injured workers and their families are bearing more and more of the cost of workplace injuries and illnesses. Many states have passed workers' comp laws that reduce benefits or make it harder for injured workers to qualify for benefits.”

Back in 1972, during the Nixon Administration, the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws was formed and made 84 recommendations for improving states’ workers’ compensation programs — including 19 recommendations it deemed essential.

Federal oversight was never instituted, but the states woke up, and a wave of benefit increases for injured workers progressed throughout the nation in the seventies and eighties.

Will that happen today?

Some don't think there's the political will, particularly as we head into an election year.

Others think that looming cash shortages in the Social Security and Medicare programs will incite some action, even feigned action, that will put the threat of Big Daddy into the states.

One thing is for sure, the relatively recent trend of negative general media reports about workers' compensation has heightened awareness of workers' compensation, and I think this is a good thing.

The vast majority of people, whether they're small business owners, big business executives, blue collar or white collar workers, have absolutely no understanding of work comp, and at least the media is providing some education to them about the system and our industry.

We industry insiders might not like the conversations that are being carried on, and we might take offense at some of the mud-slinging and negative anecdotes to support the stories, but so what? What do you really care?

These articles are providing workers' compensation with some much needed attention.

Workers' compensation and its off-shoots are commendable public service industries. We don't do everything great all of the time, but our jobs are to apply the law as evenly and fairly as we can to instances of work injury within the budgets provided, and most of the time that job is done admirably albeit without much recognition (which is why Comp Laude was created).

People make money off the system - of course they do; nobody works for free.

People scam the system - of course they do; a subset of humans will always seek an unfair advantage.

Some discount surveys of quality, others cite damning statistics.

And some point to quality outcomes, good vendors, people that overcome huge obstacles and get repositioned in life, eventually carrying on.

Media attention is good. That some federal lawmakers have taken notice is good. The conversations are spilling outside the borders of our industry and that is good.

Don't take offense that some might like to see a federal review of state work comp or that there might be some heavy handed federal position taken. I don't really see that happening any time soon. The feds can't even control their own work comp systems...

But if reviews and discussions lead to better balance, more efficiency, greater understanding, then we're the beneficiaries. No other industry has people with the skills, knowledge and talent to navigate the quixotic mix of injury, disability, medical care and budgetary constriction as workers' compensation.

We're given the rules and in the vast majority of cases those of us in the industry execute that mission on a daily basis, go home, and return the next day to do the same, serving millions of people every year in the process with nary any recognition or commendation.

So bully for the feds if they want to take a look as a result of media pressure. And bully to us that we're getting some attention.

Irish writer Brendan Behan said, "There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary."

I don't think we'll be reading our own obituary.

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