How can we separate fact from fiction in workers’ compensation? What sources do we trust? And what should we trust when it comes to workers’ comp?
The California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation (CHSWC) has been struggling with this. Current CHSWC commissioners have expressed concerns over the quality of recent contracted system studies. At the December 2022 CHSWC meeting, commissioners suggested there be a more open process for soliciting bidders to perform system studies. And the commissioners requested that they be given more opportunity for input on the front end before studies are requested by the Department of Industrial Relations.
All of this can have real-world consequences for California workers’ comp. Past reform efforts have often arisen out of studies commissioned by DIR/DWC or CHSWC.
The issue of the quality of facts also came up in a recent press release from CAAA, which noted a recent Los Angeles Times story on UCLA research that was funded by undisclosed cannabis industry sources. According to CAAA:
“The headline makes the story look much worse than it should be… in fact, it wouldn’t have even been a story had UCLA been forthright from the beginning. All they needed to do was acknowledge that they had accepted funding from cannabis interests to conduct research.
The story does point out a fact that seems to be the reason UCLA was not forthright… research paid for by an interest is 3.6 times more likely to produce a conclusion favorable to the funders of the research.
Cannabis didn’t invent this kind of “research”, nor did they pioneer the power of using a legitimate name brand research entity. Indeed, the Workers’ Comp insurance industry has been far more sophisticated.
They actually created and own the “Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau” which they describe this way on their website: “The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California (WCIRB) is California’s trusted, objective provider of actuarially-based information and research, advisory pure premium rates and educational services integral to a healthy workers’ compensation system.”
And after giving it a government-sounding name, they got it placed into state law with no state control or supervision… producing “research” that does for them what cannabis paid UCLA to do – generate favorable findings for a favorable price.
In political campaigns, when special interests create super-PACS with benign voter-friendly names they are required to list the names of their funders in all of their advertisements.
Maybe it’s time to apply that standard to the “Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau” and require them to add “Major funding provided by major insurance companies making major money off of one-sided research.”
Of course, CAAA is free to challenge WCIRB studies and statistics, just as it is free to challenge studies and statistics promulgated by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) or data from the California Office of Self-Insurance Plans (OSIP). And CAAA can testify at rate-making proceedings held by the California Department of Insurance.
Before his retirement, CAAA used consultant Mark Gerlach to do many of those things. In a perfect world, CAAA, labor organizations or public policy nonprofits would allocate sufficient resources to do their own studies. Or, possibly the DIR/DWC could be provided statutory authority and sufficient funding to analyze claims data.
But at the moment advocates for injured workers in California must generally work with the data mined by organizations that are controlled by the employer and carrier community. Happily, within that data there is sometimes room for worker advocates to question the status quo or policy prescriptions that would further disadvantage workers.
Before I close this post, a few other thoughts on where we are headed.
We live in a world rife with disputes over basic facts, rising levels of misinformation as well as active disinformation.
Recent press stories about the capabilities of ChatGPT, released by the OpenAI research lab, demonstrate huge strides in Artificial Intelligence. AI can already generate smart-sounding text and art work. AI-generated text can scour the web, picking up accurate but also inaccurate, biased information. Computer software can generate images of persons who in fact have never existed.
The traditional search information model used by Google, Yahoo and others will be under pressure.
Workers and other workers’ comp stakeholders may soon be getting and processing information in ways we had never before considered.
Separating facts from fiction is a task that will be with us in the comp community.
Happy holidays to readers. Stay tuned, as at year’s end I will be doing a post on the top developments in California workers’ compensation in 2022..