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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Workers' Compensation Beauty Pageant

The chore of ranking state workers' compensation systems is tougher than judging a national beauty pageant.  Peter Rousamiere made an excellent attempt this week in Risk and Insurance. The real answer is in the eyes of the users of the system and not merely on the commercial factors that industry relies upon to judge value.

Workers' compensation is social, remedial legislation. It is supposed to be a summary proceeding that delivers benefits expeditiously and efficiently to injured workers. The promise made in 1911 was a system removed of fault,  contributory negligence and assumption of the risk. Society has reneged on that agreement and now apportions and allocates disability on pre-existing conditions, prior functional credits and individual habits of workers. Ironically, it is Industry itself that markets items that results in obesity, smoking addiction and many other allegedly non-compensable factors.

The quality of a system is not only factored on rate of benefits, cost of insurance and lost time frequency. It is a system that should be evaluated on the human factors of injured workers' access to benefits and the time required to achieve the result. Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

Yes, California, Alaska, New Jersey, New York and Montana may all share the bottom of the tank on the Risk and Insurance rating scale. However, horror stories are heard from Massachusetts (#1) concerning "opt-out programs," and in Nevada (#2) from OSHA, concerning the failure to abide by safety regulations. These dismal problems seem to be universal and embrace the entire program as it now exists.

Like the Miss America Pageant, it is time to take a good hard look at how the system presently functions and why it is not meeting expectations, both financial and socially.  Congress should commission an undertaking to figure out how to put the workers back into workers' comp.

To read more about a Congressional Commission click here.