As the year 2010 ends and we then head into 2011 let me express my 3 wishes for workers compensation in Colorado. They are major points and would have significant opposition yet they are sensible for workers comp to be fair and efficient. I acknowledge that workers comp is insurance and this can mean limiting benefits. That is not fair but we all know that insurance has its limits. But we can make the system better. As it is the current system is seriously flawed in 3 areas. Let me detail my concerns:
1. Colorado's definition of permanent total disability is unrealistic. If you can earn any employment wages whatsoever you are not totally disabled. It is quite unlike the way the Social Security Administration looks at total disability. Colorado at one time had a reasonable approach but intense efforts at "reform" some 20 years ago led to a very narrow way of defining total disability. Example, if you can work a few hours a week for minimum wage the other side will argue you lose on this issue even if it is below poverty level. While not perfect the SS view is more realistic. But then changing this could be costly to insurers.
2. My second wish is that our system dispense with the scheduled rating and add for loss of earning ability. In Colorado an arm, hand, foot, leg injury receives a specific quantity of benefits. A scheduled rating treats the human being as a mannequin. The problem is that we use our arms and legs at work a lot. Damage from a work injury can result in a loss of your occupation or trade. The claimant receives some money and then his claim may be over. How fair is losing your trade when you obtain permanant benefits of $10000 or $15000 based on the Colorado formula now in place in this state? It is simply wrong and most of us in the field know it. Insurers save but then the buck is passed to others or to society.
3. My third wish is meant to level the playing field in the area of medical disputes. Insurers can spend a considerable sum obtaining doctors who report and can testify against the claimant. It can mean losing your entire claim. A claimant has no such deep pocket and all of us in the field know it. I've seen the other side spend over $10000 on medical experts and what can the typical claimant afford? Currently a doctor can bill at $450 an hour for his testimony which includes travel and waiting around. If every claimant had access to an insurance fund in some reasonable amount then any battle could be a fair fight. A state fund set up for this purpose with contributions from all insurers could administer this. Insurers love the current system but we all know it is unfair. An injured worker may have no income and fairness suggests he or she should have a fair chance when such a dispute arises.
So there you have it. My concern is that if we truly want workers comp to be fair and efficient then these changes make sense. What happens currently is that someone else or society has to take on the burden of helping the injured worker. We pass the buck and most of us pay for what should be handled within the workers comp system. We must pay when the system is unfair whether it be all of us or those insuring you. By the way consider this an editorial opinion and Happy New Year!