Workers Comp Zone


From a strictly workers’ compensation view, does it make a difference whether Obama or Romney is elected?

After all, workers’ comp is a state program. While there have been some advocates of federalizing workers’ comp, there is practically no political support for such a move in either party.

Obama’s career has largely not involved workers’ comp issues.

On the other hand, Romney does have a track record on workers’ comp as Governor of Massachussetts. Major Massachussetts workers’ comp reforms had been undertaken by a Republican predecessor, William Weld. From what I can determine, workers’ comp was not a major focus of Romney’s governorship though there were bills that he did sign.

For example, Romney signed 2 bills in 2004 focusing on misclassification of employees. One created a presumption that workers are employees. Another tightened penalties for misclassification.

In any event, the winner of the presidential race will not be dealing with California workers’ comp. But the race does has massive importance for workers comp, nevertheless.

Topping the list is the future of healthcare reform. Whether the Affordable Healthcare Act is repealed or is funded and implemented has long term
implications for workers’ comp. From individual worker concerns about getting medical treatment for preexisting conditions to systemic cost control and access questions, the ACA will have impact on the smaller state system.

Whether the ACA will bend the healthcare cost curve or just actually create expensive entitlements that increases overall health spending is something that may be debated.

A 2012 study by Paul Heaton of RAND is titled “The Impact of Health Care reform on Workers’ Compensation Medical Care”: … TR1216.pdf

Another area of possible impact is the issue of Medicare Set Asides. Two bills have been introduced to change the way CMS deals with set asides,
The SMART Act and the Medicare Secondary Payer and Workers’ Compensation Settlement Agreements Act of 2012. For detailed speculation on how the election might affect MSA issues, see the website article “2012 Elections: How Will It Affect CMS, MSAs and the MSP?”:

The elephant in the room, of course, is the overall direction of the U.S. budget. Will the next administration undertake massive discretionary spending cuts in order to balance the budget? If so, programs such as OSHA and federal job retraining programs might take a major hit.

Will policy evolve so that federal programs are downsized or eliminated, with the states given more latitude to spend money as “block grants”?
How might this affect the safety net on which some injured workers have come to rely in getting help after workers’ comp benefits run out?

Whichever candidate is victorious, some of these budgetary issues will come to the fore.

And then there’s the issue of immigration reform, which always looms in the background. Currently the California Supreme Court is wrestling with a case, Salas Vs. Sierra Chemical, that will define what liability an employer may have for employment law violations where the worker is undocumented. Federal action on immigration law reform might make some of those issues moot.

Workers’comp doesn’t live in a vacuum. These are but some of the collateral issues that form the context in which our comp system operates.

The consequences are largely indirect.

But whoever is victorious in Tuesday’s election may have some very real impact on workers’ comp.

Julius Young

Category: Political developments