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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Once-In-A-Generation Chance

The NY Times today called for passage of the Senate version of health care reform and salvage the opportunity for important change in the nation’s health care plan. More emphatically, the Senate version provides an opportunity for change in the way the nation’s century-old workers’ compensation system provides for the delivery of medical care in occupational disease claims.

The paper’s editorial rightly observes that one botched election in Massachusetts, a State that has already met the issue of universal health care, should not encumber the rest of country with horrors of a failed system. The Senate version of health care reform contains an opportunity to experiment and explore the opportunities on embracing the delivery of medical care and medical monitoring into a coordinated and national framework under the Medicare program. In the end it will be able to establish a unified epidemiological database to help prevent and treat occupational illnesses and lead the nation to a safer and healthier work environment.

The efforts of Senator Mat Baucus (D-MT) has made to craft an occupationally health care program has the potential for being the most extensive, effective and innovative system ever enacted for the delivery of medical care to injured workers. Libby Care [see Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Sec. 10323 pp. 2222-2237] , and its envisioned prodigies, will embrace more exposed workers, diseases and geographical locations than any other program of the past. An ancillary benefit will be the integration of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the advancement of greater worker safety through organized data collection and research.

Caring for those who have been the victims of occupational disease has been an illusive goal of the nation’s patchwork of workers’ compensation systems for over a decade. Occupational diseases were a supplement to the compensation system that developed when Industry tried to shield itself from the emerging economic liabilities that silicosis was generating.

History reflects that the system just didn’t work. The longest running tort, asbestos reacted illness, plagued the workers’ compensation system and produced a  plethora of problems that only created more delay and denial of medical care for injured workers.

Economically the costs of direct costs for occupational illnesses and diseases continue to soar. Unfair cost shifting continues. A study in the year 2000 indicated that direct costs amounts to $51.8 Billion per year for hospitals, physicians and drugs. Workers’ compensation was reportedly covering only 27% of the costs and taxpayers were sharing un even share of the burden. The costs of occupational disease amounted for 3% of the gross national product.

The problems of under-reporting of occupational illnesses and disease even compound the reporting the true reality of the issue even further. The recent NY Times and Nebraska Appleseed investigative reports indicate that true numbers are hard to come by because of the fear and intimidation injured employees suffer in reporting claims.

Since the enactment of workers’ compensation in 1911, there has never been a greater opportunity to provide meaningful change to make the workplace healthier and safer. Congress and the President Obama should take advantage of this one-in-a-lifetime chance and make the Senate version of health care reform the law of the nation.