Debate Over Reform to North Carolina Workers’ Compensation System Rages On (Part 2)

May 10, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Several days ago, this blog reported on proposed changes to the North Carolina workers’ compensation laws. Politicians, business advocacy groups, and workers rights groups have contentiously debated the merits of the reform proposals. Some of the changes would redound to “good effect” for workers (e.g. the ratcheting up of death benefits); while some of the changes would take away rights that injured workers currently have (e.g. allowing employers and insurers access to workers’ medical records, limiting the time workers can collect temporary total disability, et cetera).

Anyone who even casually reads the news about North Carolina workers’ compensation will be struck by the passions exuded in this debate.

Indeed, many advocates of the reforms see them as nothing short of foundational – in other words, if the state doesn’t pass them, NC will go to heck in a hand basket.

Conversely, opponents of the law worry that, if it gets passed, hurt workers are going to be essentially abandoned by the state.

Obviously, both of these positions are extreme. In reality, the reforms may not do much of anything – that is, they may not solve our states’ fiscal crisis or even workers’ comp crisis – nor might they particularly derange the care and treatment that workers receive. This isn’t to say that the passing of reforms won’t change the playing field – in some ways, significantly. But it is to say that we should “let the air out of the balloon” and stop awfulizing and catastrophizing about it [or overly celebrating it].

As this blog tirelessly advocates… we must examine root causes of our problems if we want to contain costs, help workers, and get to “win win” outcomes.

Here is a rough (an obviously not totally consistent) analogy. Imagine a family fighting over money. A 16-year old daughter uses her credit card to buy clothes, purses, et cetera, while the family struggles to stay in the black. The father and daughter might get into serious screaming matches over the daughter’s purchases at the mall. Might there be ways that the daughter could cut down on her spending? Would that help with the family situation? Probably and probably. But does the debate about the daughter’s spending really address the root causes of the family’s crisis? Almost certainly not.

The analogy here is that our focus on controlling workers’ comp costs may be legitimate; but it’s definitely not the only thing we need to be focusing on. Instead, we need to look at the broader picture – the structural, fundamental problems with our state’s (and perhaps even our country’s) medical problems and institutions. These problems may not be easily tractable. For instance, the baby boomer generation is getting older – this is going to create a demographically “top heavy” situation, in which the sheer number of older Americans requiring medical help will go up, and the number of active workers engaged in productive work will decline.

This top heaviness is no one’s “fault” — but it’s a real structural problem.

Continuing our analogy – it’s as if the family home got flooded, and the basement got rotted out and mold developed in the house. It’s a structural problem that drains the family’s finances. It’s no one’s fault — it just is what it is. Efforts should go to sorting out that problem instead of simply addressing the more emotional (“political”) problems. Let’s spend less time trying to control “spending at the mall” (although that is important) and more time “fixing the foundation of the house.”

Need help with a claim? A North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help you get the benefits and fair treatment you need and deserve.

More Web Resources:

NC panel hears effort to change workers’ comp law

New Bill Could Change Workers’ Compensation Laws in NC