Insurance Information Institute chief actuary James Lynch reports from the final session of #WCRI17:
The Workers Compensation Research Institute’s annual conference saved the best for last, a provocative look at comp and the Grand Bargain.
That bargain, that workers sacrifice the right to sue for workplace injuries in exchange for a predictable set of benefits irrespective of fault, is threatened, some say, by a decades-long winnowing of those benefits. The rebuttal: comp is a resilient system changing with the times.
John Ruser, WCRI president and CEO, led the discussion. Panelists were Dr. David Michaels, a former assistant secretary of labor at OSHA; Bruce Wood, former general counsel at the American Insurance Association; Emily Spieler, a Northeastern University professor specializing in workers comp and labor issues; and David Deitz, a consultant with more than 20 years’ experience designing claims management systems in both workers comp and group health.
I have some background on the debate, presenting at a symposium on the Grand Bargain last year in Camden, N.J. I’ll oversimplify a bit here by calling it a faceoff between lawyers and insurers.
The lawyers say that reforms over the past 20 years or so have continually whittled away at worker benefits, so much so that the Grand Bargain is, from the workers’ point of view, no bargain. Insurers note that both medical and indemnity benefits have been rising faster than inflation for decades and that many of the supposed benefit cuts are controls on medical costs that have little if any effect on the actual treatment that the injured worker receives.
That debate is of long standing, but Wood pointed out that the discussion used to be fairly narrow.
Several states have debated whether employers should be able to opt out of the workers comp system entirely and provide a supposedly parallel set of benefits. Opt out passed in Oklahoma (but was found unconstitutional last year) while at least two other states (Tennessee and South Carolina) have kicked the idea around.
Wood compared the changes in the debate to a football game. The old discussion shuttled between the 45-yard lines, he said. Opt out “takes the debate between the goal lines.”