11 March 2007

Workers comp a problem too

By Christopher Juniper
Where does that approximately $.20 of every dollar spent on healthcare that is wasted in administration (rather than actual health care) go? While it may take somebody with greater power than Sherlock Holmes to track it all down, the column published by astute business observer Al Lewis of The Denver Post sheds some light. A woman who was injured while on the job received poor health care treatment for her injuries and now it is a legal mess. Part of the problem seems to come from the fact that Colorado, along with eight other states, allows employers to designate a single provider for workers compensation claims; the injured party in this case is convinced her care would have been adequate if seeing her own physician.

The alleged reason that allowing employers to designate their own health care providers for workers comp injuries is to help keep their costs down - and therefore perhaps presumably consumer prices down for their products - resulting in greater competitiveness.

However, this possibly worthy goal was clearly subverted in this case, and likely in thousands more. First - consider all the fuss of figuring out who pays for what - depending on whether the injury was job related or not. A single payer system has the potential to do away with most of that fuss and confusion. Second - consider how much better our own physican would be able to treat us for injuries on the job than somebody who has never seen us before, and furthermore may be working for an organization that is rewarded by the employer for keeping costs down as it tries to compete for that employer's designation as workers' comp provider.

Little of all the administrative burden of figuring out who pays for what (personal vs. employer vs. systems like workers comp. vs. medicare vs. medicaid etc.) is actually value added. It is a cost without much benefit. This article is just one more illustration of that silly cost - not only cost to people's pocketbooks, but also to their health, and productivity.

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