California Healthline Rounds Up Editorials, Op-Eds on Workers’ Compensation
California Healthline today rounds up recent newspaper editorials and opinion pieces on California's workers' compensation system, in response to Gov. Gray Davis' (D) announcement of support for legislative proposals that he said would lower by at least $1.5 billion the estimated $15 billion to $20 billion annual cost of the system. The reforms would let injured workers choose an independent review process designed to resolve disputes between patients and HMOs, create a pilot program in which employers could pay HMOs to provide both health insurance and manage work-related injuries, prohibit doctors from referring workers' compensation patients to facilities in which the doctors have a financial stake and increase fines for fraudulent billing of the workers' compensation system (California Healthline, 5/2). The following are summaries of the editorials and opinion pieces.
Los Angeles Daily News: Davis' proposed reforms to the workers' compensation system are "a great first step, but a far cry from a permanent solution." According to the editorial, the state's workers' compensation system "has been spinning increasingly out of control" for about 10 years, and "the problems are many, and they won't be resolved easily." In addition, the state's regulatory arm has "done a horrendous job of policing the system," and lawmakers have "jacked up benefits without making any effort to rein in costs," the editorial states. The Daily News concludes, "Davis is wise not to wait any longer on the workers' comp fiasco, and for putting the debate on the public table, where it belongs," adding, "Now it's up to the Legislature to follow suit" (Los Angeles Daily News, 5/4).
Modesto Bee: Although the Legislature is drafting about 60 bills aimed at fixing the workers' compensation system, the "problem is that too few of these fixes focus on where the problem is, the system itself." California's no-fault insurance system is "infamous for combining high costs with benefits for workers that are modest, at best," the editorial states. According to the Bee, in the short term lawmakers should focus on enacting some form of payment scale on physicians, altering how injured workers' attorneys are paid and establishing some time limit within the system "to prevent any side from using delay as a tactic." The Bee concludes that the workers' compensation system can be fixed "if the Legislature puts injured workers first" (Modesto Bee, 5/2).
San Diego Union-Tribune: California's workers' compensation system is a "deeply flawed system that is no less dysfunctional today than it was a decade ago" when lawmakers began to enact reforms. The system's $15.4 billion cost is forcing companies facing financial challenges to lay off workers, cut benefits or leave the state, the editorial states. According to the editorial, "Debt-laden California simply cannot afford to lose more business" and must instead "wring the excess costs out" -- reducing payments to doctors, lawyers, insurers and others who are "siphoning billions from the system." The Union-Tribune concludes that the "sensible reforms" endorsed by Davis could "squeeze" $1.5 billion from the "wasteful" system, adding, "The Legislature should get them to the governor's desk without delay" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/7).
Sacramento Bee: The "escalating cost" of the workers' compensation system "is one of the most significant problems" facing lawmakers and "demands immediate attention," Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, and Jeanne Cain, vice president of the American Insurance Association, write. Workers' compensation "now costs businesses more than ever," and costs will continue to increase unless the Legislature and Davis reform the system, they write. According to Zaremberg and Cain, medical treatment costs must be controlled, the permanent disability schedule should be more objective and progressive and the mandatory vocational rehabilitation program must be made voluntary. In conclusion, Zaremberg and Cain write, "The current system is completely unbalanced -- making the need for a complete overhaul clear. We must address this crisis now, or risk further harm to our stagnant economy" (Zaremberg/Cain, Sacramento Bee, 5/8).
- Ventura County Star: California's workers' compensation system has "morphed into a $20 billion-a-year catastrophe" with the "middlemen in the system -- insurers, medical care providers, rehabilitation services and lawyers -- grabbing ever-larger pieces of the workers' comp pie," columnist Dan Walters writes. According to Walters, lawmakers cannot "learn from past mistakes" and "admit the errors and work on more rational policies," but rather "seem bent on adding to the complexity and irrationality of the cockeyed systems that they have created." While employers "simply cannot continue to absorb quantum leaps" in their workers' compensation bills without having to lay off workers or move out of state, "there's precious little will in the Capitol to recognize that economic reality and do something about it," Walters says. Walters concludes that the reforms endorsed by Davis "are at most a very small bandage on a wound that's gushing blood" (Walters, Ventura County Star, 5/6).