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Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Great Health Care Debate

As the US Senate signals the beginning of the floor debate of the proposed health care legislation, a new chapter is about to be written in the Workers' Compensation medical benefit delivery system. If any of the five proposed bills, or prodigies of any, are enacted into law the nation's workers' compensation will be impacted.

The health care delivery system of the nation's compensation system is a patchwork of acts enacted in 1911 that have changed little since then. While modern medical science has move at the speed of light to develop new methods for diagnosis and new modalities for treatment, workers' compensation has stood still like a classic picture in the museum of time. While the US compensation system was crafted in 1911 to provide immediate and remedial medical care for industrial accidents in a swift and summary manner, the recognition of occupational diseases, and their enormous complex etiology, has been met by what some critics observe as a "deny and delay" strategy by Industry resulting in a failure of the system to provide benefits in an efficient and effective manner. Compounding the issue is the massive maize of collateral benefits of global insurance systems that have now resisted inappropriate benefit shifting to them and are mandating reimbursement for improper initial payments in the past and protection from looting in the future, ie. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The workers' compensation stakeholders have been silent participants in the drafting of the new health care legislation and have sat quietly on the sidelines. Only on the eve of the US Senate Finance's Committee's debate on the Rockefeller Amendment, for mandated broad and potentially universal coverage, was the chorus of compensation defense attorneys' heard to rally support in opposition without offering a creative solution.

The proposed legislation will embrace massive change for the nation's medical delivery and involve every individual, business, hospital and doctor. Yet to be determined is whether every employer will be mandated to provide health insurance. While the number of the nation's uninsured has continued to rise in epidemic proportions, the "safety net" for those who have been denied medical benefits under the workers' compensation systems have also grown logarithmically.

Issues remain open as the floor debate opens on health care. To be debated are many issues including: mandatory coverage; the extent of business involvement; financing the program; a public plan; government subsidies; and the cost of care. Any or all of these immense issues will ultimately impact the national workers' compensation system as it now exists.

As the unpredictable health care legislation is debated in Congress, the legislators will hopefully take notice of how other industrial countries have met the challenge to treat workers. The European countries, where workers' compensation had its geniuses almost a century ago, have already solved the problem through the enactment of universal health care.

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