In 1911 workers bargained away the right to seek redress in the civil litigation system for a more limited benefit structure called workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation was the original “no fault system” that was to provide limited benefits in a summary and efficient fashion to disabled workers.
Soon there was an attempt by Industry to modify the system in the 1970’s to create a standardized system of measuring disability and reduce even the meager benenfits offered. The AMA guides were drafted and adopted in several state to measure permanent disability. Presently many jurisdictions utilize the 5th Edition to determine disability.
The 6th edition were published in late 2007s under the guidance of Christopher R. Brigham M. D. whose company, Brigham and Associates conducts medical evaluations. Dr. Brigham contends that only 40% of those totally disabled are really unable to perform meaningful work. It has been reported that if the new guides are adopted then permanent disability will no longer be recognized in 70% of the present claims.
At a recent meeting of the IAIABC (The International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions) , an organization composed of industrial boards and commissions throughout the United States, but open to membership from dues paying members, which include many of the workers’ compensation insurance carriers in the United States, there was “a lively discussion” concerning use of the new Guides.
Within the last few weeks, several states have paid attention to warnings and taken action to resist immediate implementation of the 6th Edition of the AMA Guides. Kentucky legislatively voted to adopt the prior 5th Edition of the AMA guides to permanent impairment rather than the current 6th edition. Vermont issued an administrative directive barring use of the new 6th Edition. Iowa has joined the growing chorus of those who will not follow the adoption of the 6th Edition. Opposition to implementation in New York is at a fever pitch.
"Dr. Russell Travis, Medical Director for the Kentucky Office of Workers’ Claims, suggested the 6th Edition makes improvements in guiding impairment rating, particularly in consistency of ratings across organ systems. However, Dr. Travis highlighted some of the perceived weaknesses he found in the AMA Guides; his presentation pointed to issues of apportionment, pain, and the qualifications required to perform a rating as still unresolved. The strong debate among the rating physicians demonstrated the lack of consensus on techniques for impairment rating and the role of the AMA Guides."
Joining the chorus of growing opposition is The Workplace Injury Law And Advocacy Group. In an article authored by Todd McFarrin, the President-Elect of CAAA, he cautions that:
“By using impairment ratings from the Guides, essentially as a proxy for disability, permanent disability benefits are being slashed. The use of impairment and the eclipse of disability as the relevant permanent consequence of an injury in workers’ compensation is a dangerous trend for injured workers. The latest [6th] edition of the Guides accelerates this decline.”
How to determine permanent disability has always been an agonizing proposition to all who participate in the system. While State legislatures and the Federal government would be pleased to adopt an objective standard, such a goal is illusionary. One cannot be substituted for subjective nature of pain and restrictions of movement in the human environment.
While the economy may be struggling, it is anticipate that the outrage of Labor to the implementation of the restrictive 6th Edition to determine permanent disability will only increase. The objections will become louder and stronger as Industry tries to renege on its 1911 bargain called workers’ compensation.