Healthcare Reform and Workers’ Compensation

(We didn’t get the Kucinich Amendment in the House, but if we did, this would be one more nice side effect of a state single payer program – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

From this morning’s Los Angeles Times:

Steve Poizner on Monday rejected a call from the California Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau to hike rates by 22.8% for policies that would be written or renewed after Jan. 1. Poizner also rejected a subsequent recommendation made by a hearing examiner from his department who had reviewed the 22.8% proposal and suggested 15.4% instead.

By law the commissioner’s decision is not binding, but it generally is followed by many leading insurance companies.

In rejecting the recommendations made to him, Poizner cited the weakness of California’s economy and high unemployment.

Because this decision is not binding, it is merely a political act; however, there is little, if any, discussion of the high cost of workers’ compensation on California business when it comes to the health care reform debate. There should be, because relief from workers’ compensation costs would put a very vocal and relatively powerful group behind health care reform: small business. (Or at least eat away at their knee-jerk Chamber of Commerce rejectionism).

For those fuzzy on it, there was a massive reform of California’s workers’ compensation system that was part of Schwarzenegger’s winning platform in 2003. The key aspect of the reform changed what medical treatment was available to workers’ comp claimants, and on what standard medical deicisions would be made, and how compensation would be rated.

This did have the effect of lowering the rates significantly over the last six years, as pointed out by the Times‘s article. I point this out to clarify that it was medical treatment, and not other aspects of workers’ compensation that were at the heart of this reform.

When I brought this up to a number of proponents of the state’s single-payer bill (variously known as SB 810 or SB 840) working for Health Care for All, they confirmed to me that the bills did not include any modification to the workers’ compensation system and that workers’ compensation claims were excluded.

I have not read either bill, so I cannot confirm this personally. But if that is the case, then there is potential in future health care reform that may be necessary at the state level to interface with workers’ compensation.

I have no idea what may come out of the U.S. Senate, but if it is a state-level public option bill, then California may have the chance to work this through. By unifying workers’ compensation claims (to the extent they relate to medical claims) into the larger insurance pool, there should be efficiencies to be gained.

In the future, business might only need to pay for workers’ compensation as a source of disability insurance and rehabilitation insurance. These are significant components, but in my experience, the fighting in administrative courts over workers’ compensation is often over medical treatment. If the state-level plan covered everyone, the dispute resolution system wouldn’t be needed.

One thought on “Healthcare Reform and Workers’ Compensation”

  1. The Kucinich Amendment would have allowed states to go above and beyond the federal program in covering the uninsured, underinsured, or strengthening the public option into something larger than what was envisioned in the House Bill.  However, it was not adopted, here’s a press release from CNA/NNOC:

    It still might come back in the Senate or in conference.  We really need to push to allow the states to experiment.  Shutting that down would be bad for policy throughout the nation.

    We need to get this revived somehow in the debate in the Senate.

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