Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three Wishes

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!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let Us Not Forget

Over at another workers comp blog they posted a great article on one of the early twentieth century worker tragedies known as the Triangle Factory Fire. Factory workers died because doors were locked and a fire killed 146 women and girls. It was horrific and a wake up call for safety in the workplace. As the article notes now with outsourcing we are seeing it happening outside this country. This should make us mindful that workers and consumers should not tolerate poor safety and unsafe products. Actually the history of workers compensation goes back around 100 years in this country. An excellent brief history is available here. However in the last 20 years efforts have been made to get away from disability and focus on impairment. But we must not forget that work injuries can be devastating to some and workers comp was intended to provide treatment and benefits in an efficient way. Tragedies require safety measures and fair benefits or problems just get passed along to society as was the case in the days before workers compensation.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Here is a View of the Top 10 Workers Comp Issues in the Nation

At the LexisNexis website there is an article that summarizes the top ten issues for workers compensation from a national perpective. It is an interesting read but workers compensation is very state specific. Colorado has its own sets of statutes, rules and cases that apply to workers compensation claims. Still some issues cut across all state laws. For instance medicare has certain aspects that can impact a claim. This is not state law but federal in scope and is meant to avoid passing the buck of future medical care for a work injury to medicare without considering medicare's interests. These national concepts and trends are important to stay informed about even if Colorado has its own laws. My experience over many years has been to observe the move away from disability to impairment as the single most important issue in workers comp. Impairment is a medical concept of damage which has been adopted in workers compensation and moved us away from the traditional concept of disability.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Everyone Seems to Benefit Except SS Recipients

The tax cut extension certainly seems to be benefiting all Americans except those just drawing Social Security benefits. Those earning over $250,000 continue to receive a tax break estimated at a cost of $75 billion. But also the Social Security tax is reduced for one year from payroll deductions and this appears to cost about $120 billion. See this article at CNN Money. My concern is if that payroll deduction is made permanent it sets up Social Security to take the fall for being too costly so benefits need be cut. You take away the SS payroll collections and then blame it on Social Security itself! Additionally despite this enormous giveaway they then quietly killed any chance to help out those on Social Security with a one time $250 check to make up for two years of no cost of living increase. Cost for that? $14 billion. Reason given? It is too costly. Makes you wonder about our priorities.