Tuesday, April 29, 2008, 10:27 PM - Political developmentsI grew up in the Camel City. (Maybe that's why I went out of my way to ride one of those critters in Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas mountains and why I ventured to Dubai and the Tunisian Sahara).
My Camel City was where they made Salems. And Winstons.
My alma mater is R. J. Reynolds High. The Demon Deacons.
It was a town nurtured by tobacco magnates, textile barons (the Hanes), trucking empires (Malcolm McLean, father of containerized shipping, from truck to rail to sea), and the banking and insurance industries.
Wachovia was born there.
There was no arugula in town, and only one Chinese restaurant. But it was not a joe-sixpack kind of town, either. I didn't know a thing about unions. There were few. North Carolina has always been a tough place for unions.
Wake Forest University came later, when I was a kid. Like a cake being baked from scratch, it was plopped down into part of the old Reynolds estate just several minutes from my house.
I would go on later to UNC-Chapel Hill law school. Michael Jordan was shooting hoops there at the time, and John Edwards was in the class behind me.
If you'd have told me then that I would be sitting here years later looking at the Golden Gate bridge writing a workers' comp blog, I would have fainted.
Life is funny like that. We meet people along the way that influence us. We have mentors.
I had mine in comp. People like Sacramento's Gene Treaster. My partners Stewart Boxer and Mike Gerson.
People who gave advice, but who primarily led by example. People who were willing to make that extra client call even if it meant they were the only one left to cut off the lights on the way out the office door.
So it was with interest that I saw Barak Obama spending today in Winston-Salem on a day which could prove definitive for his campaign.
Needing and trying to differentiate himself there in the Camel City from Rev. Wright, a man who had obviously mentored him in many ways.
Maureen Dowd analogizes it to the classic Greek stories-warrior must slay the monsters and eventually deal with his own father figure in order to claim the throne. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out.
Perhaps its far afield from the issues usually raised in this space.
But if you're reading this as a workers comp professional-ye lawyers, examiners, brokers and doctors who read this space- take a moment to think. Who mentored you in comp? How did you get here in the first place? And how did you claim your own rightful role?
Monday, April 28, 2008, 10:54 PM - Political developmentsAC/DC had its Highway to Hell. AC/DC's highway had no stop signs and speed limits.
Mine does. Here in Alameda County we have Highway 238, a snarled two lane connector joining multiple four lane freeways that link the Bay Area to inland cities.
Over the years I've wasted hours sitting on this stinker or sitting in traffic creeping towards it.
Will the DWC paperless project known as EAMS have its own Highway to Hell?
Today's workcompcentral.com piece by senior editor Jim Sams focuses on a problem likely to plague the EAMS project, the limited amount of "user licenses". It's a subject I've mentioned in several prior posts.
But kudos to workcompcentral for digging deeper on this. Workcompcentral has filed a Public Records Act request for documents
pertaining to the EAMS project. Some of the documents have been released and apparently some are still being withheld (note: I'll cover the story further if these are released and appear significant). I applaud workcompcentral's efforts to get the back story on what's really gone into the planning of this project.
Don't get me wrong. EAMS is necessary, and a promising project.
But EAMS may be like Highway 238. Only a limited number of folks can access it at any time. Currrently the DWC has only 2500 "user licenses".
Expanding the number of user licenses will be expensive-at a time when the state is in debt to the tune of billions.
Workcompcentral quotes DWC spokesperson Susan Gard as noting that
the licenses are like parking spaces at a mall. More than one person can be accomodated, but not at the same time.
The comp system is huge, and there are thousands of attorneys, insurance adjusters and lien claimants. 2,500 parking spaces is a recipe for guaranteed gridlock. Unless addressed, this will threaten the credibility of the project.
On another note: hats off to Dale Debber, wunderkind behind the Workers Comp Executive. Dale was the first to break last week's story about soundings being taken in the Capitol about a sale of SCIF. That's very unlikely to happen, but it's good to know there's a canary in the cage somewhere.
Thursday, April 24, 2008, 10:49 PM - Political developmentsDon Perata's PD increase bill passed a California senate committe vote yesterday.
Here's a video piece on the issue done by ABC news reporter Nannette Miranda:
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?sectio ... id=6099877
Wednesday, April 23, 2008, 11:07 PM - Political developmentsCould SCIF actually be sold?
SCIF is the California's largest workers' comp insurer. A quasi-public insurer, SCIF just a few years ago had around half of the market share for comp in the state. That market share is probably down to the 20% range now.
Rumors are circulating that there are proposals in Sacramento for SCIF to be sold as a budget balancing move.
How this could be achieved isn't clear. But privatizing the fund could bring big bucks to a state that is facing a growing budget deficit that may already exceed $14 billion.
SCIF has a peculiar important role to play in California's insurance marketplace. It's the insurer of last resort, meaning that it underwrrites coverage on many businesses that can't get coverage elsewhere, including many small businesses. If it were to be sold there would have to be some mechanism to guarantee coverage for employers who need it.
But SCIF has been under a microscope for the past few years. Audits have revealed mismanagement. Check out my post "Takin' SCIF to the Woodshed":
http://www.workerscompzone.com/index.ph ... 110-113711
And my post "Audit of SCIF Shows Largest Comp Insurer Ran Amok":
http://www.workerscompzone.com/index.ph ... 212-010631
I'd be wary of politicians getting their hands on SCIF. For one thing, California must eventually look for permanent solutions to structural deficits, not gimmicks such as this. Sell SCIF rather than bring back the car tax? Not a good idea.
In the long run the fund has an important role to play. There may be future times when its market share will need to increase again.After all, the spike in market share several years ago was a response to instability
in the private marketplace and insolvency of other carriers.
Competition between a quasi-public carrier and private insurers is probably a healthy thing.
Legislation under consideration will help provide better oversight of the fund. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Be very concerned if SCIF goes on the auction block.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008, 10:51 PM - Political developmentsSenator Don Perata is introducing another bill to increase compensation to workers who sustain permanent disabilities.
As sure as the swallows return to San Capistrano, you can be sure that
entrenched California business interests will issue press releases attacking
the PD increase bill. Ultimately, the opposition's premise is that SB 899
"is working" and that comp costs have been lowered, providing a boost to the state's economy.
Of course, there is some truth to that, in that comp premiums have fallen, though carrier profits remain at high historical levels.
They'll also argue that any change is "premature" and that further study is needed. And they'll probably argue that change should be made via administrative regulations (as the DWC has promised, but not delivered), rather than legislatively. That's an argument they might not be making if there was a Democratic governor in the statehouse.
But before the blizzard of arguments on the cost of a PD increase, let's get real. Too often in comp the workers are lost in studies that fail to recognize the plight of individuals. So lets look at some examples of actual workers rather than statistics. Where to start? Check out this website:
These are disabled worker "horror stories" collected by attorneys for injured workers.
Even if one were to assume that a handful of these stories
are slanted, discountable or somehow inaccurate, the sheer number of these stories is troubling. These stories put a face on the notion that the system appears to compensate permanent disabilities in an inadequate fashion. I suspect that intellectually honest representatives for employers would-in their heart of hearts-recongize the inadequacy of benefits for these particular workers.
So-a challenge to the enlightened employers (and insurers) in the employer community. What's an intellectually honest response to the inadequacy of benefits? Yes, we know that you believe (and may have been correct to some degree) that the system was out of control and had to be tamed. Tell us something we don't know.
Are workers such as these pictured as "horror stories"
simply casualties of reforms for the "greater good" of salvaging the state's economy? Should there be some effort to balance the needs of such individuals with the need for the state's economy to remain competitive? To employers:read the horror stories, look at the pictures and then answer this. Are you comfortable with a system which compensates some of your workers in this fashion, knowing that less than half of insurance premiums are going to payouts for injured worker benefits? I recognize that in many quarters altruism is seen as naive and old fashioned. But I'll still ask the questions.
A day will come under a different governor when these arguments will receive a more comprehensive sounding. Employers: is it time to start thinking about what a response might be? Saying no forever will not be
I was in Tokyo last week. I shot some video of workers there that I'll be uploading soon for your enjoymenrt. Still coming is the 1st quarter 2008 California workers' comp recap.