At the 19th Annual Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo, Las Vegas, NV, attorney Robert Rassp of California and attorney Stuart Colburn, Shareholder at Downs Stanford in Austin, Texas, were interviewed on their expectations for the Executive Roundtable Session. To view the video version, click here. An edited transcript is set forth below:
Stuart: We're at the 2010 National Workers' Compensation Disability Conference and Exposition. We are right before the executive round table. Many stakeholders are going to be arguing back and forth today. What do you expect to hear?
Robert: I expect to hear a knock down drag out fight between everybody saying all 12 of us telling the audience we are all right on everything.
Stuart: Exactly what are you right on?
Robert: Everything I say in there.
Stuart: You represent applicants' attorneys. So we know that can't be true. Where are you wrong?
Robert: I'm wrong in assuming that defense lawyers have compassion and a heart and a spine when I deal with them in litigation. So I have a philosophy when I do go to court, that is, you don't get mad, you get even.
Stuart: Getting mad and getting even sometimes is what all of the various stakeholders can do. What can we all do better?
Robert: I think the underlying theme of the program is, in general, best practices. I think as experienced attorneys in the trenches litigating workers' compensation cases no matter what state the cases are in, we have opinions about what best practices should be for the different stakeholders.
Stuart: California certainly has examples of best practices, certainly has examples with networks for doctors. Are we seeing the best results utilizing those kinds of networks?
Robert: I'm glad you mentioned MPNs. It is a relatively new concept in California. It started with our legislation just before Arnold Schwarzenegger terminated our workers comp system and brought in his own. It's interesting. One of our panelists was one of the first companies to implement nine separate MPNs in California early on. One of the disturbing unintended consequences of MPNs that we learned is that all the doctors are subject to utilization review. And it creates this horrible conflict between basically the employer and its own doctors. I'd like to see some regulations passed where if an MPN exists, that utilization review does not apply.
Stuart: Certainly California has reduced premiums by 60%. Don't you think that is a benefit to employers in California?
Robert: In fact, the savings since the Schwarzenegger reforms that were in effect April 19, 2004, has saved $50 billion in claims. And much of that burden has fallen on the injured worker and the benefit of course has been to the employers' premiums. Employer premiums have been reduced considerably. Part of the problem began in the mid 90's when insurance premiums were deregulated for workers' compensation insurance. To this day, premiums for automobile insurance are still regulated but workers' comp is not. And I think there is a much better balance for employer premiums and more bang for their buck when premiums are regulated. That is going to be very unhappy for the insurance industry if that ever comes back.
Stuart: And finally, you have a Democratic Governor now and a Democratic Assembly and Democratic Senate. What changes in workers' compensation do you expect to see?
Robert: This is my personal opinion and I will say it on the record. I believe Governor Brown is going to be very cautious. I think many clean-up legislation and regulations that should have occurred under the SB 899 reforms will gradually be implemented in the next four years that will be a balance between business interests, insurance interests and injured worker interests. I don't think there will be a revolution again. I don't think there should be. I think we will use the AMA Guides 5th Edition for determining permanent impairment. If anyone thinks Governor Brown is going to be sympathetic to injured workers, they need to look at his record the first two times he was Governor. He was not a friend of injured workers then and I don't expect him to be one now.
Brad: As a question from the audience do you expect to see injured workers getting more or less access to health care?
Robert: That depends on really the outcome of Obamacare and its ultimate implementation. There has been some talk for the last 10 years of doing 24 hour care. I know the Rand Corporation has studied it in California, and that may be something we can look at in the future, but right now it is uncertain.
Brad: Robert Rassp is from California, and Stuart Colburn is from Texas. Stuart, do you see changes happening in Texas to limit workers access to medical care?
Stuart: A recent study done by a research and evaluation group actually shows an improvement to access to care. I do not foresee, and neither do the regulators foresee, access to care being a primary issue. Admittedly we do have problems in some of the smaller communities, some of the rural areas. But these problems aren't just for workers' compensation. Indeed it is a problem for each and every health insurance carrier, each and every citizen of that county to deliver quality medical care in all 252 counties in the state of Texas.
Brad: I would like to thank both of you top experts in workers' compensation for taking the time out to be interviewed here today.
Stuart: We will see you at half time.
Robert: We will see you then.