November 10, 2014
The Second 100 Years of Workers’ Comp
by Bob Wilson
In a point-counterpoint, the author argues that the industry needs to get away from its creeping "disability mindset."
The International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) publishes an annual Peer Review Journal, and the editor, Robert Aurbach, asked me to participate in a series to be included in this year’s edition. This was no ordinary project, either, at least as far as I was concerned.
I was asked to pen an article presenting my view on changes the workers’ compensation industry should undertake to remain viable and effective for its “second 100 years.” That article would be published alongside an article from another author outlining his views. Then both of us would have the opportunity to review the other’s work and respond to his suggestions.
And the author with whom I would be sparring? Why that would be John Burton, professor emeritus at Rutgers and Cornell, and presidentially appointed chairman of the 1972 Federal Commission on Workmen’s Compensation.
Although the Journal will not be released until later this year, the four-article Point-Counterpoint series has been published in advance. Burton is an intellectual heavyweight in our industry, and I must admit the potential of this exchange left me feeling a bit like the industry’s Adm. Stockdale, Ross Perot’s hapless vice presidential running mate in 1992, who famously asked in a debate, “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Burton is an economist, and his primary article, titled “Should There Be a 21stCentury National Commission on Workers’ Compensation Laws?“, goes into detail regarding the changes he proposes. The article contains the plethora of supporting charts and graphs that one would expect from a professor emeritus at Rutgers and Cornell who was the presidentially appointed chairman of the 1972 Federal Commission on Workmen’s Compensation. My article by comparison, “The Case for Workers’ Recovery,” is a simpler, high-level view of a suggested philosophical change for our industry, to get away from our creeping “disability mindset.” My intellectually challenged contribution can best be summed up as “injury bad, recovery good.”
We engaged in this process several months ago, and while I had seen and responded to Burton’s original article, I had absolutely no idea what his response to my submission was. I have spent months dreading the possibility that he would title his review of my article, “Bob Wilson Is a Blithering Idiot.” Fortunately, that was not the case.
Ultimately, while we support the concept of workers’ compensation and its continuation, as well as agree on numerous points and identified problems, Burton and I do have distinct differences of opinion on what solutions would be best employed in the future. We have managed to present both a philosophically based and process-specific viewpoint in the writing of these articles.
I was honored to participate in this, and I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these articles. I think they provide an interesting contrast in philosophies and, I hope, will spark further discussion. I certainly thank Dr. Burton, Mr. Aurbach and the IAIABC for allowing me to be a part of the conversation.