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Monday, December 21, 2009

Good Medicine for an Ailing Compensation System



An historic shift in the delivery of medical care for those injured by occupational exposures has been signaled by the US Senate. Following decades of debate, the proposed emerging health care legislation, amended at the last minute by the Majority Leader's manager amendments, shifts Libby, Montana's asbestos disease claims to Medicare as a primary payor.

The stage was set last June 17th, when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared Libby, Montana, a Public Health  Emergency, because of asbestos present at the site. The geographical location was the site of a W.R. Grace vermiculite mine.

The legislative provision was "buried" deep in the legislation at the last moment, reported Robert Pear of the NY Times. The amendment was made Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who lead the Senate legislative committee crafting the legislation. The convoluted political bartering over the last few days reflects a sentinel change in how injured workers may be receiving medical care in the years ahead. It is anticipated that major changes will be offered over the years ahead to modify and expand the coverage.

Occupational diseases have always been problematic to the State workers' compensation systems. They have been subject to serious and costly proof issues. They were "tag along" claims for a compensation system that initially was enacted in 1911 to cover only traumatic claims. The proposed legislation is a first major step to move occupationally induced illnesses into a universal health medical care system and will provide a pilot project for addressing the long awaited need to furnish medical care without serious and costly delays.

By allowing Medicare to become the primary payor and furnish medical care, those without a collateral safety net of insurance will be able to obtain medical care effectively and expeditiously. While cost shifting from workers' compensation to Medicare has been an historically systemic problem in the compensation arena, this legislation maybe a first major step to legitimatize the process. The legislation may allow for great accountability and expansion of the Medicare Secondary Payment Act (MSP) to end cost shifting that has become epidemic in proportion. It is good medicine for an ailing workers' compensation system.


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