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The California Department of Industrial Relations and Division of Workers’ Compensation has announced plans for a series of 6 forums in April to solicit opinions about the direction of reforms to the California workers’ compensation system.

The short press release notes the following schedule:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012—West Sacramento, CA 95605
Monday, April 16, 2012—Los Angeles, CA 90013
Wednesday, April 18, 2012—Fresno, CA 93721
Tuesday, April 24, 2012—San Bernardino, CA 92401
Wednesday, April 25, 2012—La Mesa, CA 91942 (
Monday April 30, 2012—Oakland, CA 94612

According to the press release, space is limited and participants will be limited to 3 minutes of oral comment, though they can submit written commentary.

The press release notes that:

“DIR Director Christine Baker and DWC Administrative Director Rosa Moran will host the forums and topics of discussion will include:

Provision of appropriate medical treatment without unnecessary delay, the medical provider network (MPN), utilization review (UR) or other issues
Enabling injured workers to return to work as quickly as medically feasible
Adequate compensation for permanent disabilities
Reducing the burden of liens on the system
Identification of appropriate fee schedules
Reducing unnecessary litigation costs
Assessing appropriate use of opiates and other care
Any other improvements needed”

This is fascinating, of course.

Earlier, Rosa Moran of the DWC had indicated plans to create advisory groups to look at some of these issues. It’s not clear whether these public hearing will replace or merely supplement advisory groups, which to my knowledge have not yet been formed.

Of course, some of these topics have already been studied by CHSWC or other groups. In some instances there are already extensive policy fixes that have been advanced. Some fixes would require legislation while others could be done through the regulatory process.

Most of the “stakeholder groups” have ideas on the topics, but in many instances have kept their policy preferences under wraps.Many stakeholder groups may still do so, anticipating that they will be invited to the legislative table as any reforms are brought into bill language.

So will this turn out to be a useful exercise, or a circus? Not clear.

A piece by Greg Jones in Workcompcentral quotes one source as fearing that
“the events could actually be polarizing, with labor and management groups
presenting worst-case scenarios that don’t reflect how the system is actually working.”

In several posts earlier this year I had mused that despite the rumors swirling about possible 2012 comp reform efforts, it would be surprising that Governor Brown would want to see this potentially divisive issue come to the forefront this year.

Workers’ comp has been a thorn in the side of many a California politician, and has a reputation as a tar pit. With comp largely low on the public’s radar, comp would appear to be a low priority.

Looks like I may be wrong. Anyway, at a minimum this gives Brown a chance to claim that stakeholders and the public had their say, even if the action is in back room deal making.

But hearings like these tend to raise the profile of workers’ comp, and there may be stakeholders who would love to create the perception of a workers’ comp crisis even though the market has been quite steady. Labor groups, employer groups, applicant attorneys and doctor groups are all quite capable of packing the hearings with unhappy campers.

So the spin arising from these hearings may have significant effect, weakening some stakeholder positions and strengthening others.

Stay tuned.

Julius Young
www.boxerlaw.com

Category: Political developments

Julius Young

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