April 18, 2004


OK, it's not perfect, but workers comp deal works (Daniel Weintraub, April 18, 2004, Sacramento Bee)

A few hours after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders settled last week on a delicately balanced plan to overhaul the state's troubled workers compensation system, the lawyers who represent injured workers attacked the deal as a sellout to employers and insurance companies and an assault on employees hurt on the job.

"INJURED WORKERS CHOICE OF DOCTORS IS ELIMINATED," the lawyers' statement screamed. "The injured worker can choose a doctor only from a 'closed panel' or pool of physicians selected exclusively by employers or insurers. Free choice from a pool of company doctors is no choice!"

But here is what this provision would actually do: It would allow employers to offer workers a network of doctors approved by the state and obligated to follow national standards in diagnosing and treating injured workers. Workers who disagreed with the first doctor's recommendation could get a second and a third opinion. If they were still unhappy, they would be entitled to an independent medical review from a doctor chosen by the state. And if that review vindicated them, they could leave the employer's network to get care elsewhere.

That kind of gap between the rhetoric of the lawyers and the reality of the bill is typical of the interest-group minefield that Schwarzenegger and the lawmakers who negotiated with the governor had to navigate to reach this compromise. Employers, labor, insurance companies, doctors, lawyers and others with a stake in the $20 billion-a-year system relentlessly advocate for their own positions - and often seek to demonize anyone who disagrees.

But the workers comp agreement reflects a compromise among most of the major players and another example of the kind of progress on knotty problems that can come when partisans back away from absolutism and settle for something less than their ideal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2004 11:07 AM
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