Tag Archives: Daryl Davis

Workers’ Comp and Due Process Don’t Mix

If attorneys and judges really want due process with regard to workplace injuries, then they should endorse the workers’ compensation (WC) alternative in Texas that we call nonsubscription. They won’t, even though nonsubscription is consistent with the Fifth, Seventh and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — the amendments that identify due process as a key component of our national identity. The Fourteenth Amendment is very clear: “[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law . . .” In this legal context, employers are considered persons, so WC statutes mandating them to pay insurance premiums — regardless of fault — are violations of due process. That argument was so powerful it nearly prevented the original enactment of WC laws around the country a century ago.

Unlike WC, Texas nonsubscription never required employees or employers to fully surrender their legal rights to a system of special adjudication, so when employees sue their nonsubscribing employers, the cases are of the big-boy variety: tort. In Texas nonsubscription, we’ve seen about 100 judgments/settlements at or over the $1 million mark — much bigger than what WC constituents are used to. Moreover, our lawsuits in nonsubscription are processed in the civil court system, which is both a hallmark of due process and a reminder of what a day in court really looks like.

By contrast, WC disputes are typically relegated to administrative systems, where attorneys are sometimes tutored on procedure during hearings by administrative law judges. If this sounds like due-process-with-training-wheels, it’s because training wheels are necessary for everyone involved in the system (from lawyers and judges to regulators and legislators) to keep their balance as they attempt to negotiate two types of terrain at once. Due process can be thought of as a reasonably smooth legal pathway that’s been cleared for centuries by lawyers and judges. The special adjudication reserved for WC can be thought of as a smooth but abbreviated fast track that’s subject to change at the will of a legislature. But the fast track to fairness within the confines of WC is now littered with bumps and potholes because judges have permitted lawyers to drag due process procedures into a system of special adjudication that was never designed to accommodate them.

See also: Back to the Drafting Table on Work Comp  

To fans of due process, the nonsubscription system in Texas does say: “We will not deprive our employees and employers of their life, liberty or property unconstitutionally.” To fans of special adjudication, the WC system in Texas (and everywhere else) should say: “We understand why an expedited process for solving problems related to workplace injuries appeals to both employers and employees, and we can reduce costs, save time and improve outcomes for injured workers by minimizing attorney involvement.”

So if you are an employer or an employee committed to due process in the world of workplace injury, you should do everything possible to support Texas nonsubscription. But if you are committed to foisting due process concerns onto existing WC systems, you’re probably just a lawyer looking for a payday.

These Aren’t the Droids You Are Looking For

The lack of due process in unconstitutionally seizing property from employers is the obvious and gaping flaw that attorneys and judges don’t want to discuss when promulgating due process in all other areas of WC. They certainly don’t want to alter the funding of WC. Strict due process was a hurdle that WC couldn’t clear when the Grand Bargain was struck in the early 20th century. Due process almost destroyed WC then — and it threatens to destroy it today. Simply stated, strict due process and WC do not mix. This critical warning continues to fall on deaf ears as state Supreme Court Justices from New Mexico to Florida apply due process wherever it is convenient for the legal profession (but not necessarily where it is most critical for injured workers).

When forced to address this unconstitutional seizure issue, the legal community has, thus far, successfully used mind tricks akin to the one made famous by Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lawyers want us to forget that reduction of legal friction was a key incentive for employers to abandon their due process concerns and accept the Grand Bargain in the first place. Each time a new generation of entrepreneurs asks, “Why do employers have to foot the bill for this whole sprawling WC system?,” legal spokespeople respond, “Everyone already agreed to this,” deftly deflecting through a sort of Jedi mind trick. And when the business owners who have done their research press the matter by asking, “But didn’t everyone also agree to bypass other areas of due process in favor of special adjudication within the confines of WC?” the legal spokespeople wave their hands and shake their heads very convincingly as they chant in unison, “No. That is not the argument you are looking for. ”

As with Kenobi’s lie, there’s no substance to the lawyers’ falsehood beyond the confidence with which they assert it, but the mind trick continues to work. “Well, I guess that isn’t the argument I am looking for,” you might hear from an exasperated CFO. “These attorneys have been trained in the law, so they must know. Carry on.

Those who lie about due process’ historical place within WC need to know that we are on to them. Their flawed arguments need some work.

See also: What Happened on the Oklahoma Option?  

Texas nonsubscription has provided a robust case study in what due process looks like for employers and employees alike. WC worked well under special adjudication for decades. But over the past half century, as layers of procedural due process have been added to WC’s inner workings, the legal community has cried foul about the lack of substantive due process — except it selectively disincorporated that whole funding-by-the-employer component from its argument.

I support due process in Texas nonsubscription.

And I support special adjudication in WC.

Let the legal community dictate what happens in nonsubscription. But let the legislature dictate what occurs in WC — which was the original deal. Mixing them has never worked.

What Happened on the Oklahoma Option?

Regarding the Dillard’s v. Vasquez ruling, I point everyone to the dissenting opinion, which is so insightful and succinct that all concerned parties should read it.

The majority’s opinions ruling the Oklahoma Option unconstitutional were predictable in light of a number of cases on which the justices have opined over the past several months. For the fully developed rationale behind my own rejection of their poor decisions, I refer you to an essay I wrote four months ago: “Why Oklahoma’s Title 85A Has Been Right for the Sooner State Since 1917.” Leaning heavily on that essay and the aforementioned dissenting opinion from Justice Winchester, I offer a few thoughts below.

See also: An Open Letter on the Oklahoma Option  

Grand v. Petit Bargain

In my aforementioned essay, I introduce the concept that the petit bargain replaced the Grand Bargain over the past half century. This evolution can be summarized as follows:

Genesis of the Grand Bargain circa 1910

  • Before the Grand Bargain, employers could use extremely powerful (and unfair) common law defenses when sued by employees who were injured on the job.
  • Importantly, the only legal exposures by employers prior to the Grand Bargain were limited to: a) defense costs and b) damages when found negligent.
  • The Grand Bargain was meant to adjust this arrangement by: a) minimizing legal costs while b) dumping the medical and lost wage expense of workplace injuries on the employer.
  • The employee, therefore, would have a mitigated but universal solution via a no-fault system.

Incremental Incorporation of the Petit Bargain circa 1960

  • The legal community was excluded from the Grand Bargain except in rare cases of dispute.
  • Since disputes led to involvement, attorneys found ways to expand the grounds for disputes.
  • Attorneys (both plaintiff and defense) have steadily increased their standing, sophistication of arguments and expenses in workers’ compensation (WC).
  • For all WC cases (win or lose, plaintiff and defense) medical AND legal expenses are billed to employers.
  • Dispute resolution became the norm in many states’ WC systems—with Oklahoma being near the top of that unfortunate list prior to the overhaul of 2013.

The above summary demonstrates deft, self-serving maneuvers by the legal community until 2013. Recent court decisions are less deft and more blatant in their promotion of antagonism between employers and employees. The above summary should also help explain statements such as the one below from Mark Schell, co-chair of the Oklahoma Injury Benefit Coalition (the lobbying force behind the statutory overhaul):

The OIBC will continue to work with the [l]egislature to preserve and improve the progress that this historic legislation has provided Oklahoma despite the opposition of those who cling to the old, more litigious system from which they benefited.

What concerned parties need to understand about Oklahoma politics is that the state bar association has a lot of control over who sits on the state’s Supreme Court. Justices are therefore subservient to the collective agenda of attorneys throughout the state. The petit bargain is a financial windfall for attorneys and judges. Eliminating the costs of these disputes is not a prospect they want to consider, because very few attorneys fare well when everyone is happy. To avoid that conversation, lawyers and judges pretend to be united in their commitment to traditional and patriotic notions of due process—notions that are misplaced in the world of Grand Bargain legislation, which is all about special adjudication (a distinction explained in more detail in my above-linked essay).

Gurich Opinion

The Gurich opinion bears some clarification, as her argument included multiple logical flaws that inattentive readers may have missed.

See also: The Pretzel Logic on Oklahoma Option

After offering a false dichotomy in her first sentence, Gurich spends several pages discussing the red herring of Texas nonsubscription. She follows that up with a straw man argument against the false narrative of ERISA before concluding with a classic equivocation in her misuse of “exclusive.” Logicians and rhetoricians throughout the nation should be impressed with her argument’s brazenness (if not its efficacy).

More important than detailing Gurich’s sophistries are Winchester’s comments in his concise dissent.

Next

Several months ago, we at WorkersCompensationOptions.com could see the writing of this decision on the wall, so we helped draft House Bill 2205, which addresses virtually all the concerns put forth by the Supremes yesterday. That bill had more than enough support last session to pass. We suspect the same will hold true this next session. It is now up to the legislature—as spokesmen of the citizens of Oklahoma—to determine what the next step is.

Where the Oklahoma Court Went Wrong

This essay takes issue with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent decision in Torres v. Seaboard Foods to declare some workers’ compensation (WC) laws unconstitutional.

The problem with the opinions of Justices Edmonson, Combs and Colbert isn’t simply that they reached the wrong conclusion — but that they reached it for the wrong reasons.

To justify their decision, all three justices went out of their way to invoke the grand bargain, a historic compromise between employers and employees that guarantees medical and wage replacement benefits to injured workers. Before the grand bargain was struck in 1917, most U.S. employees injured on the job had to sue their employers for damages. The process was often prohibitively expensive, onerous and time-consuming for hardworking citizens who found themselves unable to earn a paycheck — when they needed funds to cover medical bills and other expenses during their convalescence.

The grand bargain is worth championing because it put an end to this intolerable state of affairs, thanks, in part, to luminaries such as Crystal Eastman, who thought an injured worker shouldn’t have to spend “nearly half of (his settlement) to pay the cost of fighting for it.”

See also: Taking a New Look at the ‘Grand Bargain’

Eastman’s emphasis on avoiding long, costly court battles was typical of the thinking that guided the U.S. into embracing the grand bargain.

It is therefore disappointing to see Justice Colbert argue that he is “forced to insure that claimants and employers in the (WC) system have their day in court.” Colbert’s rationale is contrary to grand bargain principles.

The only thing forcing Colbert to such a conclusion is his decision to put the interests of injury lawyers ahead of the interests of injured workers and of the employers who provide the benefits those workers deserve.

If the Oklahoma Supreme Court is as committed to preserving grand bargain principles as Justice Colbert claims, it doesn’t need to do anything revolutionary. It only needs to rule in the same way that it did in 1917, when it initially recognized the state legislature’s ability to pass special legislation concerning WC in the interest of the general public.

This article is the summary of a much longer essay on the topic, which draws on numerous primary and secondary sources and which you can find here.

An Open Letter on the Oklahoma Option

I’m the founder and CEO of WorkersCompensationOptions.com (WCO), a company dedicated to workers’ compensation (WC) and its legal alternatives. This letter is intended to quell the concerns of employees in our client companies—employees who may have been distressed by the recent (mostly negative) publicity from ProPublica and NPR regarding options to WC in Texas and Oklahoma.

In case you only saw one installment from the Insult to Injury series, I’ll provide a quick summary. In 2014, the project’s authors started to assimilate massive amounts of data from their research concerning each state’s (and the federal government’s) WC system. In March 2015, the authors began releasing articles with an indisputable premise: Collectively, these systems need improvement.

That commendable beginning eventually gave way, however, to a hypothesis that is supported neither by reality nor by the overwhelming quantity of data the authors provide. Their conclusion (that employers are in cahoots with insurers to pressure attorneys, anonymous doctors and legislators into discarding the lives of an unfortunate few for the sake of bolstering corporate profits) completely misses the mark in pinpointing why so many WC systems are broken beyond repair. In fact, attorneys and doctors put at least as much pressure on WC systems as insurers, and any attempt to depict the medical and legal communities as innocent bystanders in the WC feud is simply too naive to be taken seriously.[1] I do not doubt the authors’ sincerity in addressing a serious societal problem, but I also do not believe they are equipped to understand the problem they sought—however earnestly—to demystify for their readers. Worse yet, I fear they have positioned themselves in the WC space in a manner that is only likely to retard the implementation of practical solutions.

This letter is prompted by the article on Oct. 14, 2015, which painted an inaccurate—even an irresponsible—picture of both Texas nonsubscription (TXNS) and the Oklahoma option (OKO). As that article’s title (“Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp”) is lengthy, I’ll shorten it to CDWC going forward.

Texas Nonsubscribing Employees: What Can We Learn?

Texas is exceptional in the WC world because it has, for more than a century, offered employers a viable alternative to WC. Of approximately 380,000 employers in Texas, roughly two-thirds subscribe to a traditional WC system; the other third are nonsubscribers who develop their own models. That’s about 120,000 different systems, and there is plenty to be learned. We’ve seen various organically grown components develop from these disparate systems, many of which superficially resemble WC. Despite those similarities, however, industry experts understand how counterproductive it is to make unilateral comparisons between TXNS and WC.

The authors of CDWC didn’t get that memo.

Of all the various lessons learned from diverse TXNS models, one runs counter to conventional WC dogma: Employers can protect themselves while delivering superior care for employees at a fraction of the cost of WC. Eliminating the inflated costs associated with abusive practices that run rampant in WC is a critical component of that particular lesson.

Because the CDWC authors insist on judging TXNS through the lens of WC, TXNS looks to them like a system that would appeal to skinflint employers who simply do not care whether their employees get hurt. However, because employees of nonsubscribing companies can sue their employers for tort, the decision to opt out of WC is likely to be penny-wise and pound-foolish for employers who do not take measures to ensure the safety of employees. The CDWC authors’ failure to unpack the importance of tort negligence means many readers will come away from the article without understanding that a typical $50,000 payout in WC could easily be either $0 or $5 million in TXNS—depending on who is at fault for the accident. Even more disappointing is CDWC’s attempt, in a one-sentence paragraph, to gloss over one of WC’s most dangerous shortcomings: the extent to which the no-fault arrangement between employers and employees has removed incentives for safety in the workplace throughout the country.

If you are an employee of one of our Texas nonsubscribers, rest assured that your employer has every reason to minimize workplace accidents and to take very good care of you if an occupational injury occurs.

In a nutshell, your interests are aligned with your employer’s—another critical lesson we’ve learned from TXNS.

Oklahoma Option Employees: A Whack-a-Mole WC System Led You Here

ProPublica and NPR harp on a consistent theme throughout the Insult to Injury series: WC is broken. We at WCO agree, and Oklahoma may provide the single best example of how and why a state’s WC system becomes unsustainable.

The WC ecosystem is made up of five major communities: insurance, medical, legal, employer and employee. Abuse within the system by any of these communities leads to adjustments to the boundaries of the system. Throughout the Insult to Injury series, the authors go out of their way to sidestep the discussion of systemic abuse. They even attempt to dismiss fraud by citing a study that minimizes its role. Abuse and fraud in WC are, in some ways, analogous to speeding on the highway: Almost all drivers abuse the speed limit, but very few are issued citations. Similarly, the cases of clear-cut fraud in WC only reflect a small portion of the amount of abuse going on. But even if we allow the authors to exclude all instances of clear-cut fraud from the WC conversation, we are still left with rampant abuse driven by insidious systemic incentives.

For decades, abuses and inefficiencies within the WC system have led to each of the five communities touting the need for major reforms—at the others’ expense. Real reform threatens each community, which leads to stalemates in negotiations. Major upheaval has been avoided via the compromise of pushing and pulling the system’s boundaries, resulting in a decades-long game of whack-a-mole being played across the nation. If one voice cries, “Data shows an alarming trend in opioid abuse,” that mole gets swatted by requiring more medical credentials for prescribing pain killers. When another shrieks, “Overutilization is surging,” that mole is whacked through costly and time-consuming independent medical examinations. When someone else observes, “Our disability payouts are higher than neighboring jurisdictions,” that mole prompts us to lower disability payouts. Immediately, a fourth voice shouts, “Pharmaceutical abuses make up 8.4% of total costs,” and that mole persuades us to introduce drug formularies. But there isn’t even a moment of silence before another voice remarks, “Our analysis shows dismemberment payouts in this jurisdiction are lower than those of our neighboring jurisdiction.” That mole gets whacked by proposing legislation to increase dismemberment payouts—legislation that is dead on arrival.[2] At some point, we have to realize the moles are multiplying faster than we can whack them. (If my commentary doesn’t apply to other jurisdictions, I’m happy to restrict it to Oklahoma and Texas because writers can best serve their readers by acknowledging the limitations of their own expertise.)

Even if we concede that the changes detailed in the paragraph above aren’t necessarily bad (which I’m not conceding; I’m just trying to be polite and move the argument along), they demonstrate a persistent pattern of outcomes, inclusive of abuse, inherent in any hierarchical bureaucratic system. Regulators are busy reacting to entrenched abuses while market participants find new and exciting ways to game the system. This futile game of whack-a-mole is endless.

The Sooner State had a front row seat to witness what TXNS accomplished—both the good and the bad.[3] With that first-hand knowledge, the Oklahoma legislature has finally provided the state—and the country—with an opportunity to see whether real change can restore function to a malfunctioning system. While WC stakeholders assure us they are only a few more whacks-at-the-mole away from making WC hum, Oklahoma lawmakers have written a new chapter in the history of workplace accident legislation. The OKO is neither WC nor TXNS.

The brilliance of the OKO is that it doesn’t attempt to overhaul a broken WC system. The legislators effectively stepped away from that decades-old stalemate. Instead of an all-out overthrow, they left WC in place and created an option for employers who were willing to try something new—which is exactly how WC itself was introduced a century ago.

Because the OKO is substantially modeled on TXNS, it is easy to see why the CDWC writers conflated the two in their analysis. The errors in CDWC concerning ERISA’s applicability, employee benefits and appeals committee processes in Oklahoma are all presumably honest mistakes made by writers who, in their zeal to distinguish TXNS and the OKO from WC, failed to distinguish TXNS and the OKO from each other.

Nevertheless, it’s important for employees to understand that TXNS varies dramatically from one employer to another, and many of the rules concerning TXNS do not apply north of the Red River.

Although the CDWC authors misleadingly couple TXNS and the OKO with respect to ERISA’s applicability, ERISA plays no direct role in occupational accidents in the OKO.[4] We’ll be happy to get you a legal opinion on that, but for our purposes regarding CDWC, take my non-legal opinion as on the record. If others disagree, they should go on the record, as well. While ERISA has served employers and employees well in TXNS, its role in the OKO is only implied (if that). We are free to use it where we wish, as long as we are compliant at the state level.

Presumably tied to their ERISA misapplication, the CDWC authors assert that “benefits under opt-out plans are subject to income and payroll taxes.” Such tax advice is unusual from investigative journalists without citation, and I have asked the authors to share their source. Although the jury is still out on this tax issue, it is a point the CDWC authors must distort to substantiate their otherwise baffling claim that the workplace accident plans of OKO employers “almost universally have lower benefits.”[5] If any OKO plans really do offer benefits that aren’t at least as good as those provided by WC, they’re illegal. That’s how the legislators have written the law, and it’s what they’re dedicated to achieving for workers, regardless of obfuscations invoking TXNS, ERISA and unresolved tax implications.

The authors of CDWC also completely misrepresent appeals committees for at least a majority of OKO employers. The authors overlook a dramatic improvement to employee protection that the OKO makes to TXNS when they claim that appeals committees in Oklahoma work analogously to appeals committees in Texas: “Workers must accept whatever is offered or lose all benefits. If they wish to appeal, they can—to a committee set up by their employers.” That’s dead wrong. Executives at each of our OKO employers are fully aware that, in case of an employee appeal, the employer has nothing to do with the selection of the appeals committee panel members or the work they complete. The process is independent from the employer and extremely fair.[6] The CDWC authors would do well to read Section 211 of the law more carefully.

On the subject of benefit denials, I’ll share a single data point from our OKO book: To date, we have denied exactly one claim. This is a nascent system, so we must be very careful in drawing actuarial conclusions. Still, our company has led more employers from traditional WC into the new OKO than any other retailer, so we have a bit of credibility to offer on this subject. The point of the system isn’t to deny benefits to deserving employees but to ensure benefits are delivered more efficiently. The system is working.

The CDWC authors only provide one OKO case study, Rachel Jenkins. Strangely, they lump Jenkins in with four TXNS case studies. The Jenkins case is still being tried. We will withhold opinions—as we hope others would—until a more appropriate time.

As a reminder, while the OKO law is stronger today than ever, if it were to be deemed unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, we would have 90 days to get everyone back into traditional WC (per Section 213.B.4.).

Next: Vigilance and Diligence

My comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any associations or lobbyists. I have no interest in debating those who inexplicably assume that any alternatives proposed to a failing system must stem from sinister motives. However, I encourage anyone (from prospective clients to employees of existing clients) with questions or concerns to call me.

Another option for learning more is to click here and watch a formal debate regarding the OKO. This footage was shot in September 2015. It features Michael Clingman arguing against the OKO while I, predictably, argue for it. One thing you can’t miss in that video is my desire to oust most attorneys from the scene. To help explain, I’ll adapt a quotation from John F. Kennedy (who was discussing taxation) to my own area of concern (the well-being of employees): “In short, it is a paradoxical truth that employee outcomes from increased WC protections are worse today, while economic results suffer, and the soundest way to create higher and better standards of living for employees is to eliminate these abused protections.” For philosopher kings, the theory of the OKO may not sound as good as the theory of WC, but when it comes to practical realities the results demand everyone’s attention.

To summarize my primary criticism of Insult to Injury, it simply hasn’t done enough. The story it tells is insufficient and smacks of partisanship and ideology, two biases that ProPublica’s journalists allegedly avoid. WC is substantially more complex than a corporation-out-to-exploit-its-workforce short story. Ignoring abuse in each of the communities in a five-sided WC debate demonstrates a lack of journalistic impartiality and a stunning deficiency of perception. Moreover, to my knowledge, ProPublica hasn’t crafted any relevant suggestions for legislation, simply leaving its readers with the vague and implicit notion that federal oversight is needed. If that is the goal of Insult to Injury—to provide one-sided, emotional yarns alongside a treasure trove of data, hoping it will all spur some federally elected officials to create real change at long last—then I suspect ProPublica will still be holding this subject up to the light of opprobrium upon the retirement of each of the series’ authors.

We do not aspire to win over the authors or even their followers. We will focus our energies each day on providing the best workplace accident programs for employers and employees alike. Our results should speak for themselves.

Finally, I am not an attorney, and nothing in this letter should be taken as legal advice.

Sincere regards,

Daryl Davis

Footnotes:

[1] With medical providers, overutilization is always a concern. Click here and watch the video from the 12-minute to the 15-minute mark for a detailed description of rampant WC abuse by surgeons who provide unnecessary and damaging back procedures. If the workers weren’t disabled prior to the surgeries, many were afterward. As for the legal community, simply view slide 73 of the NCCI’s 2013 Oklahoma Advisory Forum. WC disability payments, which is where attorneys get their cut, were 38% higher in Oklahoma than in neighboring states—not because jobs are 38% more dangerous in Oklahoma than in Kansas or Texas but because Oklahoma attorneys are 38% more effective at gaming the state’s WC system.

[2] Alabama SB 330—which was prompted by Insult to Injurynever got out of conference. From what I could gather, lengthy negotiations between several different interest groups led nowhere, with the Alabama Medical Association at the center of this particular stalemate. Not surprisingly, the two special sessions called by Alabama Gov. Bentley in 2015 were strictly focused on the state’s budgetary crisis; this bill was never discussed.

[3] The final Texas case study offered in CDWC deals with Billy Walker, who fell to his death while on the job. The upside to TXNS is his estate’s common law right to pursue a tort lawsuit against his employer. The employer could have been ordered to pay Walker’s estate a settlement in the millions, but the employer filed bankruptcy before any such judgment could be awarded, which is plainly an unacceptable outcome. This demonstrates a lack of surety—the single biggest problem in TXNS. OKO addresses this issue in various ways, most notably in Section 205 of Title 85A, which guarantees surety for injured workers.

[4] For the non-occupational components of your OKO program, ERISA does apply.

[5] Per Section 203.B. of the statute, compliant plans “shall provide for payment of the same forms of benefits included in the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act for temporary total disability; temporary partial disability; permanent partial disability; vocational rehabilitation; permanent total disability; disfigurement; amputation or permanent total loss of use of a scheduled member; death; and medical benefits as a result of an occupational injury, on a no-fault basis, with the same statute of limitations, and with dollar, percentage and duration limits that are at least equal to or greater than the dollar, percentage and duration limits contained in Sections 45, 46 and 47 of this act.” (Emphasis mine.)

[6] Details of OKO appeals committee procedures are generally misunderstood—for now—by plaintiffs’ attorneys (and, apparently, investigative journalists). Attorneys frequently assume that, because the employer foots the bill, the employer controls the process. For a peek at how the appeals committee process really works for a majority of OKO employers, those curious should watch this video.

workers' compensation

Hidden Motives on Workers’ Comp

As legal alternatives to workers’ compensation (WC) grow in number and popularity, employers will save money, and employees will—in aggregate—receive better care. [1] As this market grows, my income will also grow.

Such forthrightness should seem unnecessary from a proponent of the opt-out movement, like me. But a vocal (and boisterous) contingent of the opposition to alternatives avoids the necessary logical inversion by hiding behind other, less relevant motives.

As companies move away from WC, the income for opponents of alternatives will shrink, though they will never acknowledge financial well-being as a motive in opposing the opt-out. Attorneys, judges, cost-containment companies, third-party administrators, industry regulators, the NCCI and a host of other WC stakeholders [2] veil their financial motives by redirecting the argument to “what is fair and just for the employee.” They are being disingenuous.

See Also: The Pretzel Logic on Oklahoma Option

Over time, it becomes easier to expose financially motivated WC stakeholders. But a second component of the opposition is free from poorly hidden financial agendas. This ideological group—which compels me to write this essay—claims to oppose free market alternatives on altruistic grounds. The group’s members—just like their financially motivated brethren—lean quite heavily on the noble ideas that they hope are conveyed in the two-word, nebulous term “grand bargain” and that they treat as sacrosanct.[3]

The U.S. was a little late to the WC party. Pressure had been building on policy makers since the second half of the 19th century, but it was the Pittsburgh Survey by the Russell Sage Foundation that provided the greatest influence in the rapid adoption of WC laws in the U.S. between 1911 and 1920. Anecdotes (e.g., The Jungle) helped, but legislatures needed statistically compelling factual evidence to reform the legal schemes governing workplace accidents. Crystal Eastman stood and delivered. In her seminal study, Work-accidents and the Law (which was part of the Pittsburgh Survey and was published in 1910), Eastman gathered and reported on workplace accident data for a 12-month period between 1906 and 1907 in the small but industrially relevant sample of Allegheny County, PA. She rightly and importantly spent the first 200 pages of her study explaining the devastating effects of workplace accidents on individuals, families and communities.[4] After dozens of case studies concerning widows, orphans and maimed workers, she dove into the problem with aplomb.

The root of the problem was that common law systems couldn’t keep up with changes stemming from the Industrial Revolution—especially those in the U.S. It’s no coincidence many countries that eventually committed to industrialization were also, to some extent, relying on English common law. From the Pittsburgh survey, Eastman summarized the problematic common law system on page 206 as follows:

  1. It is wasteful:
  • The state expends a large amount in fruitless litigation.
  • Employers expend a large amount, as the result of work accidents, only a small part of which is actually paid in settlement of accident claims. 
  • The injured employes [sic] spend nearly half of what they get in settlements and damages to pay the cost of fighting for it.
  1. It is slow; recovery is long delayed, while the need is immediate.
  2. It fosters misunderstanding and bitterness between employer and employees.
  3. It encourages both parties to dishonest methods. 
  4. The institutions which have been resorted to as an escape from its evils, liability insurance and relief associations based upon a contract of release, are often advantageous to employers, but disadvantageous in important respects to employees. 

The irony—over a century later—is too obvious. Eastman’s first four points might as well be the outline for states like Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee when contemplating legal alternatives to their inefficient, caustic, modern WC systems. Granted, there was substantially more urgency for Eastman when she created this list—deaths per 100,000 hours worked were at all-time highs. Today, that statistic is at an all-time low. As significant as our modern occupational accident problems are, they are a different breed from—even if they are similarly described to—what Eastman studied.

Eastman’s study was so powerful that many state legislatures used it to outline their original WC laws. Stakeholders were generally agreeable to this grand bargain, which, 1) prevented employees from suing employers for common law negligence, 2) required employers to pay medical and lost income benefits for employees injured on the job and 3) removed negligence from the conversation by making the entire WC scheme “no fault” in nature.

But there are some important contextual factors that contemporary WC stakeholders forget to mention regarding the grand bargain that gave us WC to begin with. First, most states made these new-fangled WC systems optional. That’s right; of the 45 states that passed WC legislation between 1911 and 1920, 36 allowed employers to choose which system they wished to participate in. The original Texas law—which still stands iconoclastically today—was perfectly ordinary when it was originally enacted in 1913 (it gave private employers the opportunity to subscribe to WC or stick with common law, albeit without three powerful common law defenses). When the grand bargain was being born, options were the norm.

See Also: Key Misunderstanding on Oklahoma Option

A second, forgotten characteristic of the grand bargain is how disputes—though rare—were handled. By design, attorney involvement was minimal. One of the primary goals of the grand bargain was to decrease the amount of litigation, not to recategorize and grow it. Eastman’s suggested mechanism (pp. 211-220) for dispute resolution was arbitration, which was embraced by a number of states.[5] However, never count attorneys out. Primal due process ideals eventually compelled them to increase their involvement (and compensation), all in the name of giving clients the day in court to which they are constitutionally entitled. This aberration—attorney involvement—is now sold to the public as part and parcel of the grand bargain.

Opponents will accuse me of misinterpreting Eastman’s time and message. All interested parties are, of course, welcome to read her study [6] and draw their own conclusions.

We invite interested parties to tour the facilities of our opt-out employers and interview employees. They can even search for hidden torture chambers filled with injured workers, but they won’t find them, because they do not exist. Our employees are happy, and our employers are delivering top-notch care to them at a fraction of the cost of WC.

But our opponents won’t accept this reality. “Facts be damned!” they cry. “The employer needs to pay full fare for WC.” That reasoning, again, is understandable from those WC stakeholders who fear they will starve if they can’t slurp from the trough of WC. Inexplicably, however, this attitude is even more pronounced among the opposition’s altruistic contingent, which maintains that employers must continue covering the inflated costs of employee welfare under WC, whether or not that financial burden improves the situation of injured employees.

Medicare presents an interesting litmus test for this ideological perspective. It is obvious to anyone paying attention that our entitlement healthcare program for seniors could—and should—deliver better outcomes at substantially lower costs. This is self-evident to Americans of all political stripes, in large part because we all pay for those costs via taxes. We would all like to see outcomes improve and our tax burden decrease.

In both Texas nonsubscription and the Oklahoma option, we eliminate the vast majority of legal overhead, which allows us to focus on medical outcomes. The same sorts of inefficiencies and abuses that occur within Medicare also infect WC, so it shouldn’t be hard to believe that the free market (given the legal opportunity to do so) can economize them.[7]

Yet, our vocal, altruistic opponents won’t allow their own criticisms of Medicare to influence their opinion about opt-out saving money and improving outcomes. It’s perfectly obvious that Medicare (a healthcare system rife with bureaucratic inefficiencies) could deliver better results at lower costs if it were redesigned. However, when we demonstrate that WC (a healthcare system equally rife with bureaucratic inefficiencies) could—and should—deliver better results at lower costs, they opponent of opt-out close their eyes and cover their ears. “It can’t be done!” they cry.

Somehow, from this perverse perspective, the solution to workplace injuries does not need to make the little guys (the employees) any better off, so long as it does a sufficient job of making the big guys (the employers) pay.

Ah, the joys of spending other people’s money.

This litmus test provided by Medicare shows our altruistic opponents have an unexpected hidden agenda: politics. Is such a desire—to have the employer pay more than necessary—relevant to the welfare of employees? No, it is not.

It is political. It is an impediment. It is stupid.[8]

The grand bargain was about rationalizing what had become out-of-control non-solutions for workplace injuries. Throughout the past century, many WC systems have become burdensome for employees and employers alike. They are now, ironically, non-solutions. The grand bargain wasn’t fundamentally about WC; it was about protecting employees and employers as sensibly and pragmatically as possible. It accomplished that objective with minimal use of attorneys, while generally allowing employers to elect (or subscribe) to a statutory scheme that took the name “workmen’s compensation.”

With slightly different jargon, that sounds eerily similar to what Oklahoma did in 2013. The Sooner State took a critical look at its non-solution for workplace injuries and created an alternative to more efficiently protect employer and employee alike. This statutory scheme has taken the popular name of “the Oklahoma option.”

What’s next for opt-out proponents? First and foremost, Oklahoma must tend to its new creation. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see what other states will do—if anything.

What’s next for our opponents? I suspect they will not advertise their fear of losing income. They will continue to tout the grand bargain as sacrosanct, without examining the historical context from which it emerged. They will try to hide behind arguments that appear noble.

We at WorkersCompensationOptions.com will remain at the cutting edge of this movement and will provide whatever legal occupational accident programs our clients wish to implement. Our results already speak for themselves—and they will continue to do so.

 

[1] If the reader is determined to think of “care” in only post-injury terms, so be it; my claim still stands. However, our idea of “care” starts with motivating employers to create the safest workplaces possible and motivating employees to avoid injuries in the first place. Because “no fault” is a cornerstone of the WC structure, our emphasis on safety is far easier to convey to our opt-out clients than to our WC clients.

[2] The panoply of stakeholders in WC (ranging from payroll auditors to WC Medicare Set Aside reporters and from private investigators to coding specialists tasked with maximizing reimbursements) is quite a spectacle. To avoid overwhelming my audience, I generally categorize this excessive cast of characters into the five communities of WC: insurance, medical, legal, employer and employee. Watch the first seven minutes of this video for an explanation of how perverse the incentives are for most of these stakeholders. Regrettably, the employer and employee have become afterthoughts in a system ostensibly designed to meet their needs.

[3] In both form and content, this article borrows heavily from the first 12 pages of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society. In particular, I have modeled my discussion on his examination of “the obsolescence of ideas,” where he explains the danger of leaving “sacrosanct” concepts unexamined as a matter of convenience.

[4] Sensitive readers beware; stories of aching necks are completely ignored by Eastman in favor of gruesome accounts of deaths and dismemberments.

[5] Arbitration was much less formal a century ago. Typically, a disinterested but experienced third party would simply perform a records review and make a determination. Testimony could be heard. For a glimpse of how WC disputes were resolved in the 1920s, see pages 88-194 of Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin 301, April 1922. The report by Carl Hookstadt details the various methods of dispute resolution for 21 states and two Canadian provinces. Voluntary resolution between employer and employee was universally sought. In its broadest sense, “arbitration”—in varying layers—successfully prevented litigation in the vast majority of cases (with the California sample offering the singular, glaring exception).

[6] I urge all industry insiders to read Eastman’s survey, as it’s fascinating, historically significant and accessible for free via the link above.

[7] While this argument is esoteric, I remind the reader we have actual results. Texas nonsubscription and the Oklahoma option are not theoretical; they are real.

[8] Reza Aslan delivered one of the greatest uses of the term “stupid” in September 2014, when interviewed on CNN. This nine-minute video is certainly worth watching in its entirety, but, for his thoughtful and appropriate deployment of a term many of us are too cowardly to invoke, watch from 6:20 to 7:00.