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Mike Myers
Mike Myers
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Privatized Workers' Compensation: Toe the Party Line

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My colleagues rail against everything they hear from the insurance company. My philosophy is a little bit different. I don’t necessarily toe the party line.

In my experience about 50 percent of what I hear from insurance industry "spokespeople" is untrue. That means the other 50 percent is either true or pretty close to it.

One of these "true or pretty close to it" issues is reflected in the recent debate over attempts to privatize workers’ compensation.

Most plaintiffs’ attorneys think it’s a horrible idea. I’m not really sure why they think it’s a horrible idea. Many of them have a hard time explaining their viewpoint. This anti-privatization idea has been forced down the throats of plaintiffs’ attorneys by the Washington State Association for Justice (previously known as the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association).

The insurance industry contends that workers’ compensation can be handled by private companies with greater efficiency and less cost. Based on my experience working with government agencies, it’s hard to argue with the insurance industry’s position.

The biggest abuse or problem with workers’ compensation in its current form is that it perpetuates the injured workers’ disability conviction. It reinforces the idea that injured workers have, e.g., by tearing a muscle or breaking an ankle, somehow gone through a life altering change and are incapable of being productive members of society without substantial retraining and assistance.

Not only does this mindset waste tax dollars, it really impacts injured workers when they pursue third-party claims. The best thing any injured person can do for themselves and their case is get back to work after an injury. Workers’ compensation and the relationships our clients have with the Department of Labor and Industries make it almost impossible for these people to help themselves.

The ongoing and frequently exaggerated relationship with the Department of Labor and Industries not only delays the injured worker’s return to a normal life but it also results in substantial liens being placed against the injured worker’s personal injury case. These liens secure the repayment of benefits the injured worker probably didn’t need to start with.

Liens make it extremely difficult to resolve injured workers’ cases in a way that truly compensates them rather than being a tool to recover money for the Department of Labor and Industries. Benefits paid by the Department frequently keep injured workers in an unsatisfying state of suspended animation (kind of like methadone to a heroin addict) and significantly reduce the amount of money injured workers get at the end of their cases.

It’s really disappointing that so many plaintiffs’ attorneys have decided to toe the party line on this issue. If they took a moment to think about how workers’ compensation in its current form affects them and their clients, I think they’d take a different view.