Redux: Workers' Recovery and The State of the Onion Address

05 Feb, 2020 Bob Wilson


This blog post was first published on February 1, 2018, following that year's Presidential State of the Union Address. Much of it is still relevant, and since Bob's post for today was inadvertently torn up by Nancy Pelosi, we have chosen to offer it again.


Legislators, Regulators, Judges and Fellow Citizens of the Workers' Compensation World,

As we gather tonight to look back on the past year within the workers' compensation industry, we reflect on occurrences both good and bad; realities both positive and negative, and opportunities realized as well as missed. The year was, as has ostensibly become our norm, a somewhat tumultuous one. We saw constitutional challenges and landmark court decisions. There were boisterous reform efforts that, as is so often the case, ultimately generated more noise than results. There were the opioids. And then more opioids; as well as the growing battle cry to fix our sins of the past on that deadly topic. Yes, this year proved worthy of the challenges it carried. But that is not what we will focus on this evening.

The workers' compensation industry is much like an onion, in that it is a complex, multi-layered structure that is highly opaque. To fully understand the structure, and to see what is at its very core, those layers must be pulled back one by one. The many layers are comprised of legislators, regulators, insurance companies, TPA's, medical providers, attorneys and a myriad of vendor specialties. At the center, or the core of our onion, we find the very essence of our industry; the injured worker and the employer for whom they work.

Tonight, we stand together to review the state of our onion; and we will find that its condition, while vibrant in many quarters, is not as strong as many of us would like to see.

The reality is that the actions of the past – be they court decisions or legislative efforts, have not in any way approached the solutions this industry ultimately seeks or needs. This evening, my comp denizens, we will gaze ahead as I outline my proposals for the coming year.

For truly effective reform that has a lasting and positive impact, we require a culture change; a paradigm shift if you will; a restructuring that, at its core, addresses the most important functions required of our industry. Therefore, in this blog and elsewhere, this coming year will be known as the “Year of Workers' Recovery.” Workers suffering injury and impairment who are entering our system for the first time should be guided by a system named for its most important function; to aid and assist them in recovering and returning to function, both on the job and in their personal lives. The restorative impact of one simple word, “Recovery,” can carry tremendous weight in this process.

Furthermore, the “Claims Adjustor” shall henceforth be no more. They will instead be known as “Recovery Specialists” and will be tasked with the enviable role of assisting this return to function and a commensurate quality of life to whatever extent possible. The folks in subrogation who may currently possess that title will just have to find different ones, as the application of this designation to this particular function at this critical juncture is both essential and far more effective for our needs. It should go without saying that the industry will provide adequate training and resources with which to perform this critical job. Where the Claims Department has been viewed by some in the past as an expense area that produces no revenue, the effective performers of our industry will recognize that the newly named Recovery Management Division represents the front lines in customer service at the most critical point of the business relationship; when someone has been injured and lives and assets are at risk.

Finally, our industry will have seen its last “injured worker.” There will be no “claimants.” There will only be Recovering Workers, aided by a compassionate system that fully understands the bio-psycho social elements that can dramatically influence the recovery process.

My friends, the continuous pattern of endless legislative and judicial reforms, which are most often nothing more than superficial patches and ineffective salve, can in no way fully address the modern economy and changing societal expectations of the population we serve. We need a fresh start and a new perspective to embrace the changes that will ultimately preserve and protect our industry and the people passing through its doors.

I have stated many times before that Workers' Compensation should be renamed Workers' Recovery. I've had the opportunity to suggest the Workers' Recovery concept to numerous audiences around the country the last few years. It is always well received. It is well received because people recognize that words can make a difference. They know that the language we select can affect the outcome we achieve. They know it is common sense, and that “recovery” provides a much better focus for long term results. It will take herculean efforts on numerous legislative fronts and will not happen quickly. But happen it must. This year, 2018, is the year we must strive to make it a reality.

Until that day where this goal becomes realized, every one of us can adopt a Recovery Mindset, and start pursuing our obligations using that single guiding principle. The world has changed dramatically in our industry's more than 100 year history. It is time that we change with it, and fully embrace the opportunities that lay ahead.

An onion can be both delicate and pungent, and can actually burn if cut, chopped or handled improperly. It is time to ensure that the state of our onion remains strong and vibrant. The path to that success lies in the world now known as Workers' Recovery.

Together, we can make a difference. Together we can realize our founders' ideals of forming a more perfect onion. I am confident we shall succeed beyond our wildest expectations.

Thank you, good night, and may God Bless our country, our industry and the people it serves.

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