Top industry bloggers debated the hottest issues facing workers’ compensation and risk management at the 2016 California Workers’ Compensation and Risk Conference.
- Bob Wilson, President & CEO, WorkersCompensation.com, LLC
- Julius Young, Attorney, Boxer & Gerson, LLP
- Jennifer Jordan, Chief Legal Officer, Medval
- Michael Gavin, President, Prium
- Mark Walls, Vice President Communications & Strategic Analysis, Safety National (moderator)
Yesterday the Department of Labor (DOL) released a report around state workers’ comp commissions outlining areas of inadequacy and oversight. What are your initial thoughts about this?
Jordan: I thought the report was unfair, was dated and the didn’t use updated data. It was full of threats with no ability to help. It reminded me of what we saw with CMS and that fixed nothing. I do agree that the Social Security system does need reform, however, because people are being put into the system from frivolous injuries just to get the claim off the adjuster’s desk.
Gavin: I was disappointed because the report was based on the assumption that injured employees also become disabled. There’s an assumption that our system needs to be reformed related to disability, with no medical focus on the very definition of disability. You can tell that the DOL doesn’t know much about workers’ compensation, but the fact that they brought this to the forefront should be a wake-up call. We need to be proactive as an industry in addressing some of the allegations.
Young: I sort of liked the report as an applicant attorney. First, it was released with a broad brush, so it is good to shine a light on what’s unfair in the system. It might foreshadow what we’ll see in the next election. Politicians could use the report to increase federal involvement, but I think it will stay in the background.
Wilson: I’ve been predicting that we will see federal involvement in workers’ compensation for a while now. The problem with the report was the broad definition of disability. You got the sense for the report that any injury could be blamed on the employer. What we need to learn from this is that, we need to be involved in the conversation because the federal government does not know nearly what we know about it.
Are we really going to see federal intervention?
Young: I think we might be set up for this to happen 5-10 years down the road. We have log jams in Washington, where one party will eventually break through over the other. I don’t mind if there’s some federal intervention around the edges. I’m not as concerned as the rest of the panel. Ultimately, work injuries could become pre-existing conditions that could enter into Obamacare.
Wilson: I’m not sure we can count on the standards of what political party would traditionally do. We could very possibly get caught up in whatever they do to try to fix Obamacare. I do, however, think we need to fix our industry because it needs fixing and not because we are concerned that the feds will come in.
Gavin: I think in a Clinton presidency, you’ll see the dots connect. Part of the Clinton administration could be to engage the DOL to try to fix Obamacare. However it happens, I think it will be regulatory. I don’t think we have the data to prove things like how many potential workers’ comp claimants are actually social security disability recipients. We don’t have the data to support the public policy changes that the federal government might want to make.
Jordan: Fundamentally, the regulatory threat is largest because they could come in through OSHA or ERISA and sneak in that way. Those are more creative possibilities I could see happening.
There’s a ballot in Colorado to create 24-hour healthcare. Is this the fix for our system?
Gavin: I don’t know if it’s the fix, but I am interested in it. The proponents are convinced there’s going to be surplus. The opponents believe there’s going to be a deficit. Who’s right? We don’t know because no one has tried it and how do we know if we don’t try it out. I don’t think it’s going to pass, but if it did, I think it will be informative.
Wilson: I’m hard pressed to think of any government program that has ended with a huge surplus. I’m not as eager to see a state engage in a social experiment that could end in disaster. The medical system in comp, where we are concerned with function, is not there in the traditional healthcare system. I think we’ll lose that as an industry and become just an indemnity system.
Five states now have ordered reimbursement for marijuana on workers’ comp cases. How do you compare medical marijuana to opioids?
Gavin: That question is common, but I think it’s false – it’s a multiple choice test, where you are given A and B without no C, D, E. We are doing ourselves a disservice by not including the many other options in the pain management conversation. It shouldn’t be an either/or.
Jordan: The scary idea of it become compensable is that they are scientifically enhancing it every day. It’s becoming more potent, so where does that stop?
Wilson: I’m not pro-marijuana, but I think it’s coming. It’s much more of a societal thing. We don’t have enough research on it because the feds have kept it as a Schedule 1 drug. You can’t compare it to opioids. Ultimately, we don’t know this demon, so don’t trade one demon for another.