Midday Wednesday there will be two reports released concerning workers' compensation. One is from the US Department of Labor, the other from the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). The concept of a simultaneous release of reports is not unknown to our industry. After all, ProPublica and OSHA "simultaneously" launched negative reports on us last year, although everyone involved claims the timing was a coincidence. What is different this time is that the "event" has been announced, and will even be live streamed over the web. What makes it even more interesting, is that no one is talking about what the reports contain.
I spent last week at the annual IAIABC conference in Portland, ME. Several people there have solid connections with DOL representatives. The word from them is that they have been "locked out" of the process, and absolutely no one will talk about what is coming within these documents. There has been a complete and total blackout thrust over their existence.
It sort of makes one wonder why.
There is speculation (largely driven by me), that the Feds have a growing appetite to involve themselves in workers' comp, and that their gateway in to our industry will be under the banner of taxpayer protection over the Social Security Disability Fund. That fund, estimated to be broke sometime this year, is known to be the recipient of an undetermined number of people who arrived there courtesy of a work related injury. While there is absolutely no doubt that is true, the extent of impact workers' comp has had on SSDi is subject to debate. Certainly states with inadequate benefits and those with arbitrary caps on disability have caused their injured workers to seek refuge in that system. I can't argue that something should be done; as a taxpayer, I have an interest in protecting dollars spent on our behalf.
I just wish I had more faith that whatever action is taken will be the right one. I get nervous when government theoreticians and academics align to improve my life.
I imagine the reports tomorrow will not contain an overt declaration of such an effort. They will more likely be used to set the stage for the needed players (Congress) to act. They will talk about disability caps, benefit inadequacy and the “unfair balance” the authors find in the grand scheme of jurisdictional systems. They will tout the need for reform, and may suggest certain actions, but there will likely be no smoking gun involving new regulatory policy. The DOL doesn't have the ability for such in its current mandate.
Not that the feds haven't stretched the envelope in that regard in recent years….
So, today we wait. Unfortunately tomorrow, while interested parties are listening to the live stream release, I will be on a plane to California, unable to partake. It is possible our world may be ever slightly different when I land - we just do not know.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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