Saturday, April 15, 2017

Colorado Compensation Conference 2017

The Colorado Department of Labor opens its 2017 Workers' Compensation Conference on Monday in scenic Colorado Springs. It is an ambitious three-day agenda, and has attracted over 175 attendees from across Colorado and various other states, including 12 from Florida. The quality of the programming is illustrated in the variety of attendees. And there are exhibitors and speakers, all told there will be over 300 people in attendance. 

A big draw Monday afternoon will be the Regulator Roundtable. For 75 minutes, the Director of the Colorado Division of Workers' Compensation will moderate a discussion of what is topical in American workers' compensation.


The topics are not published in the conference materials. The Agenda merely promises "agency leaders from three states to a panel discussion focused on the challenges, concerns and issues facing jurisdictions across the nation." And, that is fairly general. What are the issues and concerns facing workers' compensation?

I am honored to be on the panel in Colorado Springs, but I am not the moderator. So, I don't know all of the topics that could be mentioned, and the free-flowing nature of a panel like this is truly a significant part of its charm. But, here are my predictions of possible discussions:

(1) The challenges of the Grand Bargain. Workers' compensation is a series of complex systems. It involves and affects every American, despite the vast majority never noticing or appreciating it.

(2) Legislative and regulatory policy development. How competing interests and perspectives vie for attention and primacy in a complex and evolving political process.

(3) The debates and challenges of constitutionality. Recent years have brought unprecedented volumes of legal challenges. The very essence of the Grand Bargain, access to courts, freedom of association and more have been debated.

(4) Challenges of due process and equal protection. Legislatures have provided special benefits and presumptions to some workers. First responders have come to enjoy status and benefits denied to others; more recently moves to compensate mental injuries and cancers have begun.

(5) Subjectivity and objectivity have each been decried and championed. Recent trends are toward standardization, with states adopting treatment guides, impairment guides, and medication formularies.

(6) The injured continue to struggle with the truth of pain. The promise of opioids has, for many, instead been a disappointing lie. Patients have acclimatized, doses have escalated, addiction has become reality, and death has loomed. It is an illustration of the convergence of medical art, science, compassion, legislation, regulation, competing interests and the challenges endemic to workers' compensation.

Your panelists are fortunate to be led by moderator Paul Tauriello. Paul is Director of the Colorado Division, and a long-time leader in workers' compensation. He brings decades of experience to the podium. Paul has been involved in a variety of national workers' compensation discussions, and is a frequent presenter, panelist and moderator at national conferences. He brings focus to challenges that these systems face. 

The Oklahoma experience over the last few years has been intriguing on a variety of levels. The state recently (2014) abandoned its' workers' compensation court process and joined the majority of states with an administrative hearing process for claims. It experimented with an "opt-out" for employers, which ambitiously promised the best of everything to everyone, but which the courts concluded was unconstitutional. From benefits to process, there have been various constitutional challenges in Oklahoma, and throughout Bob Gilliland has been at the helm.

In the Oklahoma system, workers' compensation is managed by a three-member Commission, of which Bob Gilliland is the chair. He has practiced law in Oklahoma for 51 years. The Commission there provides regulatory leadership, management of both claims and administrative adjudication processes, and acts as an appellate court to review decisions. Oklahoma has been fortunate to have Bob's leadership and experience on hand during its' transition to a modern administrative system. 

Georgia's workers' compensation system is similarly organized, with a three-member Board charged with the overseeing the administrative, regulatory, and adjudicatory processes. Georgia's Board similarly acts as an appellate body, reviewing the decisions of the state's administrative law judges (ALJ). Chair Frank McKay was appointed in 2013, after practicing workers' compensation for 22 years. His experience was both in trial and appellate practice, and he served on the Georgia Workers' Compensation Advisory Council. Several states have similar organizations focused on the challenges of both legislative and regulatory management of the system. 

And, unfortunately, they were unable to find a third speaker of such caliber and so yours truly will join the panel. I am humbled to share the stage with these luminaries of the workers' compensation world.

We will endeavor, in the course of 75 minutes, to bring a variety of subjects to the table. There will likely be agreements and consensus, but there will undoubtedly be disagreement and debate. It is the "must-see" of the Colorado conference. Fortunately, it is followed at 5:00 by the Welcome Reception. Frankly, following 75 minutes of discussion this focused, involved, and passionate, you are likely to feel you need the break. 

I look forward to seeing you at the Regulator's Roundtable, Rocky Mountain style. Sit in the front, we will be calling on those that try to hide in the back rows!




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