Swedlow: Change in Leadership ‘One of the Most Significant’ in Quite Some Time

Nancy Grover

Sacramento, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – All eyes are on California to see what, if any changes Gov Gavin Newsom will seek for the workers’ compensation system. While he, like his predecessor is a democrat, it’s uncertain what his vision might be.

“It’s one of the most significant changes in politics and the administration that has occurred in quite some time,” said Alex Swedlow, president of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute. “Gov. [Jerry] Brown was very focused on maintaining the principles of SB 863 … in thinking how to spend our time in 2019, all bets are off.”

As Swedlow explained, Brown’s record of deflecting efforts to reevaluate or shore up elements of the legislation are associated with what he called “the longest period of stability of our system following reform in 40 years. Typically, reform has a shelf life of two-and-a-half years. We are now pressing five years.”

Costs have been reduced and there has been a higher adherence to evidence based medicine. One unintended consequence has been the high cost of managing medical, due to the creation of the independent medical review system which had been designed to better resolve medical disputes. CWCI has been researching the impact of the legislation.

One of the reasons for the stability of the system, Swedlow said, is the fact that SB 863 was developed mainly through brainstorming sessions between labor and management representatives, with few other stakeholders involved in the negotiations. He expects some may see the change in leadership as an opportunity to revisit their opposition to the legislation.

“We anticipate a renewed debate on dispute resolution, cumulative trauma, the general issues of apportionment and privacy,” he said.

The CWCI is also gearing up for its annual meeting in March where new research and commentary will be discussed.

Among the issues CWCI will study this year are:

  • Potential impact of court decisions, such as King vs. CompPartners, in which the state Supreme Court upheld the process of utilization review. “But the court winked at the legislature and hinted ‘if you don’t like any aspects, you can do something about it in terms of penalties or other regulations that caused the dispute in the first place.’ Swedlow expects a challenge due to the decision and a rethinking of dispute resolution.
  • Expanded studies from 2014 and 2015, with an eye toward dispute resolution and medical care delivery in the supply chain. He said researchers want to better measure the types of requests made informally, those receiving formal review, and the types of treatment from the time the first report of injury goes to an adjuster to the final challenge of IMR.
  • The relationship between declining opioid prescriptions and system costs. With several years of reduced use of the narcotic, CWCI will analyze what if any impact that has had on overall expenses.

“It’s going to be a busy year for us.”

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