Workers Comp Zone


IMG_2953The non-campaign is over.

Jerry Brown will soon be on his fourth lap in the governor’s office.

It seems like just yesterday that Brown was speaking at a fundraiser at my house in Oakland, but actually it was four years ago. Brown stood on my back patio, looking toward the Golden Gate, addressing around one hundred supporters from the comp community.

Many attendees believed that injured workers had found a friend. The day was bright and crisp, as were the hopes.

Fast forward to 2014.

This past Tuesday, at 76, Brown squashed his GOP opponent, hardly campaigning. There was one measly debate . Brown hardly ran any ads, despite sitting on a huge pile of campaign cash. That’s cash that he can hoard in case he wants to promote or oppose issues during his fourth term.

Workers’ comp was basically a non-issue in the campaign, as were all other issues except water policy and the state’s finances.

Brown will be working with a legislature that is slightly less Democratic. Several days after the election a few races appear to still be close enough to be classified as undetermined. But we do know that Democrats will not have a supermajority in the Capitol. This will give Republicans some leverage.

Furthermore, term limits have pitted Democrats against Democrats in some instances. Some of the recent winners are “business Democrats” who will be less receptive to injured worker concerns.

And all this is against the November 2014 national backdrop in which business friendly conservatives made major electoral gains. I expect we’ll see many states tighten up their workers’ comp systems.

Some injured workers and their attorneys believe that workers’ comp is a righteous issue that should be high on the political radar. I hear a lot of complaining and whining.

Time and again we see that workers’ comp is not high on the radar, however. And this election was no exception.

Workers’ comp is and will remain an “inside baseball” kind of issue.

Governor Brown probably thinks that he “fixed comp”. In fact, that’s what Brown said to one of my partners when they were introduced this Spring at a downtown Oakland cafe.

Appropriately, the cafe is known as the “Can’t Fail Cafe”.

Brown’s cabinet people and DIR administrators want to keep comp that way. Fixed. Quiet.

Brown’s focus in his fourth term may be on building infrastructure and keeping the state on solid financial footing. Workers’ comp is a mere annoyance.

As noted above, this is hard for some workers and their advocates, many of whom  expect  the pendulum to swing and another round of reforms to emerge, tempering the hard edges of the past 10 years’ changes.

There will always be minor reforms around the edges.

But if there is to be any substantial positive change in workers’ comp it will likely  come only if key labor and business stakeholders believe that elements of the system are unworkable and bring a package to Brown.

Further reforms must be in their interest.

Or in Brown’s interest, if he perceives the system is not functioning well.

Four more years is a long time. Perhaps costs will spike, creating calls for yet more reform measures.Perhaps courts will rule on the constitutionality of IMR or the validity of various regulations. Perhaps the costs of IMR will spur a search for better cost control mechanisms. Perhaps union trust funds and county hospitals will discover that treatment costs are being shifted out of workers’ comp onto them. Perhaps the ACA will affect comp in ways we can’t yet appreciate.

We could make a long list of what-ifs.

Meanwhile, the focus will be on other issues. Not comp.

Julius Young