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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

COVID-19: A lesson for the workers’ compensation industry

Michael Lewis’s new book, The Premonition, is about three characters and their struggle to alert the Nation about the COVID-19 pandemic. The book offers a shocking insight into the mismanagement of the public health care system. The workers’ compensation industry lacked adequate information to prepare for the epidemic properly. It must address this deficiency in the future.

The author of 14 bestsellers reveals the story of a massive failure and coverup by the US government and its agencies. The workers’ compensation system tragically misplaced its reliance upon those governmental sources and the sprawling “medical-industrial complex” to provide the health guidance to protect workers, employers, and insurance companies. 

Lewis tells the story of management failure through a “rich narrative” of three people who saw the infectious disease epidemic coming. They are Laura Glass, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student; Dr. Charity Dean, a California health officer; and Dr. Carter Mecher, a former ICU physician and VA health policy analyst. 

The book’s characters recognized that lacking medical treatment for the virus. The population would be required to seek other non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) to mitigate the spread of the emerging fatal virus. With a flawed credible, and organized public health system, the Nation soon became overwhelmed with infections and deaths. Many non-essential workplaces were closed to halt the spread of the infectious occupational exposures and illness,

Essential workers, and the industries that employed them during the pandemic, were seriously impacted by occupational exposures generated from the virus. The modification of workers' compensation systems was undertaken on an emergent basis to benefit those workers and their industries who contracted COVID-19. The social insurance program was substantively eased so those essential industry sectors could continue to function. The legal standard for "causal relationship" was modified in many jurisdictions by regulation, executive orders, and statutory changes. Procedurally, the remedial benefit system had to retool the adjudication process quickly and function on a virtual basis while attempting to satisfy due process requirements. 

The author signals that the private health industry is now expanding to fill the void left by the Nation’s non-functioning and disorganized public health system, which is guided by leadership focussed primarily on politics. The workers’ compensation industry may need to rely principally upon a network of independent private-public health companies for guidance. These private sector companies may be the vehicle that keeps workplaces safe and operational in stressful times, including in an era of new future pandemics and virus variants. 

History regretfully repeats itself. Hopefully, the workers’ compensation industry has learned a lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic and will be better prepared to meet the infectious disease challenges of the future. 
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.