At the 24th Annual National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference, some of the workers’ compensation industry’s most-prominent bloggers gathered to debate industry trends.
The panel consisted of:
- Moderator: Mark Walls, Vice President Communications & Strategic Analysis, Safety National
- David DePaolo, J.D., Founder, President and CEO, WorkCompCentral.com; Author, DePaolo’s Work Comp World blog
- Joseph Paduda, Principal, Health Strategy Associates; Author, Managed Care Matters blog
- Rebecca Shafer, J.D., President, Amaxx Risk Solutions Inc., Author, ReduceYourWorkersComp.com blog
- Robert Wilson, President and CEO, WorkersCompensation.com; Author, From Bob’s Cluttered Desk blog
Is workers’ compensation still that grand bargain between employers and workers? ProPublica, OSHA and other critics have been criticizing the system.
Paduda: Workers’ comp is designed to serve the most, the best. Just like any system, there have been individuals hurt by the system but, generally speaking, critics are missing the fact that the system is doing a pretty good job.
Shafer: I would agree. However, there are so many of the large claims that are problematic and have worked with a few that have shocked me at how poorly these particular injured workers were served by the system.
Wilson: Critics have an agenda and that is why bad stories are being released, but we have to define what a “bad story” is. Some of their renditions of what’s bad is like an employee having to return to work while still experiencing pain. This actually could be positive because it is more effective to return to work than to sit at home on the couch.
Shafer: There are vendors making money off of situations that are helping create these stories that are tarnishing workers’ compensation’s reputation.
DePaolo: You have to remember, from a historical context, workers’ comp was promoted by business and labor wanted nothing to do with it. On a grand scale, there’s nothing better than workers’ comp to balance everything out. Business and labor both want stability and, fundamentally, that’s what the system helps to do.
Paduda: The ProPublica report was riddled with errors. I think they are advocates masquerading as journalists. They have a position that they are pushing.
There are significant differences in benefits state-by-state. Is that a good thing and is the government going to change that at some point?
DePaolo: Yes, that’s a good thing. I think workers’ compensation is a state issue, not a federal issue. I think the federal government doesn’t have the political fortitude to address it.
Paduda: I haven’t seen any evidence that the government is concerned with touching workers’ compensation. They have a long list of other items to address.
Wilson: Nothing would surprize me from the federal government as to what type of involvement they choose to take in the system. Some of this negative press could prompt action. I’m not saying it’s probable, but it’s possible, and we should prepare for that.
Shafer: They could become involved in areas of cost shifting, for example, from workers’ compensation to social security. There are a couple areas like that where the government could become involved and I suspect that they might.
We are starting to see attempts at developing alternatives to the traditional workers’ compensation. Is this the answer?
DePaolo: This movement is the result of absolute frustration by the business community. They are unhappy with the control that the system has over them and they want a new set of rules. The opt-out movement is telling us that business is tired of mismanagement in workers’ comp. That’s the way I see it. I don’t think it will replace the system, but it sure is a wake-up call.
Shafer: One of the obstacles for alternatives is that an insurance broker is not going to push an alternative to an insurance program because they would make less money.
DePaolo: The conversation is about value. We only talk about saving cost, but we need to illustrate value. If we can’t justify our value, these systems will.
Wilson: My problem continues to be with the complete lack of transparency with these systems, particularly in Oklahoma.
Paduda: What problem is opt-out solving? There isn’t a dramatic problem with the system.
Where do you see this industry in 10 years?
Paduda: I think work comp will be one-third smaller than it is today and saddled with legacy claimants that won’t have job to go back to due to automation or offshoring.
Shafer: I think we will involve doctors much more, with more qualified providers involved much sooner.
Wilson: I agree with both of these statements, especially with that automation will alter the workforce in many ways. I think it will also change the type of claims we have. I also think we will see many different ways that medical devices speed information and recovery like telehealth.
DePaolo: I think we are on the cusp of a very exciting time in our industry. There is no other system that has the ability to manage medical and indemnity like workers’ compensation. Currently, groups are lobbying to create a new class of employer called “independent contractors” that could lead to a whole new series of insurance products and we are the only ones who know how to do that.
Workers’ comp may shrink, but we’ll have an entire new class of worker.
Walls: We are going to see a blurring of the lines between the healthcare and workers’ compensation systems. Employers are looking at 24-hour models, pharmacy spend, etc. The patient is a person. You can’t treat an injury in a bubble and not pay attention to the other health items involved. The industry will have to evolve because of this.