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Quarter 1 Risk/Reward with Tom Precia: Our Work to Achieve Worker’s Compensation Reform in Wisconsin

State legislature handed Wisconsin employers a small victory by fixing a loophole that allowed injured workers to circumvent the exclusive remedy and sue employers.The State Legislature handed Wisconsin employers a small victory on worker’s compensation recently by fixing a loophole that allowed injured workers to circumvent the exclusive remedy and sue employers. While it’s not the medical cost reform employers have been pleading for, it’s an important change. I’m proud of the role Integrated Risk Solutions played in bringing it about.

More than five years ago, Integrated Risk Solutions recognized several worker’s compensation challenges facing employers in our state. Runaway medicals costs and steady increases in disability rates threatened to relegate Wisconsin to the back of the pack when competing for new and growing businesses.

Employers needed a coalition to rally support for fair progress on our Worker’s Compensation Act. Our Wisconsin Employers for Equitable Worker’s Compensation (WEEWC) group provided that outlet.

Working with our dozens of employer members, WEEWC identified key objectives for worker’s compensation legislation. Chief among these was a fee schedule to tackle the skyrocketing cost of treating work injuries.

The facts bear repeating:

According to the Worker’s Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) CompScope Benchmarks for Wisconsin 2016 study:

  • Wisconsin had the highest average per-claim medical payments from 2014-2015.
  • Prices for non-hospital services and hospital outpatient services were highest in Wisconsin, compared to 27 other states in the same study.
  • Wisconsin employers pay more than double the typical price for common services, like pain management injections, radiology services and even basic evaluation and management.
  • Prices for worker’s compensation medical treatment grew faster than any other study state from 2009-2014.

Every two years, the state of Oregon ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the overall rate for worker’s compensation costs. In 2014 Wisconsin was 23rd, and in 2016 rose to the 12th most expensive state for worker’s compensation.

Employers recognized the need for a change.

But, WEEWC couldn’t go it alone. Through combined efforts and a common goal of improving Wisconsin’s work comp environment for employers, WEEWC has found a valued partner in Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). The influential organization allowed WEEWC to connect with lawmakers at a higher level, and eventually take a seat on the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC).

As a member of the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, John Tindall, Integrated Risk Solutions Director of Client Claim Advocacy, helped negotiate the agreed bill that included a fee schedule. Tindall has rallied support for the bill, and along with Integrated Risk Solutions Executive Vice President Pete Aisbet, led a delegation of employers to testify in favor of the bill at a public hearing in February.

Lawmakers, possibly swayed by the deep-pocketed healthcare lobby, chose not to act on the agreed bill this year.

That’s disappointing, but we’re not giving up.

We know employers can successfully achieve positive changes in worker’s compensation. Just look at the exclusive remedy fix.

It all started when an alert defense attorney raised the alarm about a troubling Supreme Court case. Through Integrated Risk Solutions’ work on the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council and WEEWC, we were among the first to recognize the perils and join the push for a fix.

The Supreme Court’s decision in The Estate of Carlos Rivera v. West Bend Mutual permitted the estate of a temporary worker killed on the job to sue the company that used the temporary service. The case pierced the exclusive remedy provision by exploiting statue language that states a temporary employee cannot sue the borrowing employer if the injured worker “makes a claim” for worker’s compensation benefits. Since the Rivera estate never “made a claim” for worker’s compensation benefits and proceeded directly to a civil suit, the Supreme Court permitted that suit to proceed.

Tindall, through his role on the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, helped draft a legislative fix to the flawed statute.

The current language – signed into law February 28 by Governor Scott Walker – simply replaces “makes a claim” with “has the right to make a claim.” That sounds easy, but it took dozens of people and multiple drafts to find the right language that contemplates possible loopholes and secures the exclusive remedy.

To achieve the same success on medical cost containment, we must grow our coalition and speak with an even louder, more persistent voice. We need you – Wisconsin employers – to join the cause.

In the coming months, you’ll see more information on WEEWC activities. These important events will help shape the agenda as the WCAC looks to begin another agreed bill cycle.

For more information, or to join WEEWC, contact John Tindall at jtindall@intrisksolutions.com.

With your help, I know we will achieve a brighter future for Wisconsin employers.