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Which way is California’s work comp system headed?

There seemed to be a bit of nervous tension as CWCI’s annual meeting kicked off. After years of relative stability, and dare I say it steady improvement in many areas, it’s no wonder stakeholders are a bit trepidatious.

With a new Governor in office, new appointments in the offing, and some seemingly intractable problems still challenging stakeholders, the nervous tension is certainly understandable.

Fortunately, the first speakers addressed this head on.

General Counsel Ellen Langille led off with a summary of legal activity in the Golden State. My big takeaway was the King case.  CWCI filed an amicus brief in King v CompPartners which big win for all employers, taxpayers and yes patients. The Supreme Court upheld the exclusive remedy protection for utilization review organizations. Briefly, UR physicians were not deemed to be “treating physicians”, a sensible ruling indeed.

Ms Langille turned things over to Jeremy Merz and Jason Schmelzer for a summary of what’s coming. Both gave kudos to CWCI for providing much-needed data to help legislators understand what is really going on.

Schmelzer made a key point – politicians do not want to talk about workers compensation – they think it should just work. He also noted former Democratic Gov Brown vetoed more work comp bills viewed as problematic by employers than his Republican predecessor – Arnold Schwarznegger.  Point being, just because one is in this party or that does not mean they will hew to what you’d think is the party line.

While Gov Newsom is moving quickly on key issues, he has yet to show his hand on workers’ comp issues. The two experts opined that:

  • Significant reform in work comp is unlikely as the system is seen as generally working well
  • While it is expensive – it’s better than it was
  • Key stakeholders, e.g. labor and employers – have bigger priorities.

One potential big issue is the independent contractor issue. While several bills are under consideration, it’s not clear any will get traction over the near term.

I would just add that there are lots of other issues that are way more important to important people than work comp; climate change’s impact on the state, water projects, battles with the federal administration on any number of issues, taxes, education, and many more. So, unless work comp is about to implode or explode, it is not going to get any traction.

What does this mean for you?

In California’s work comp system, things are likely going to remain stable at least for this year – and likely next.

One thought on “Which way is California’s work comp system headed?”

  1. Paul, I know your space is limited, but it is relevant to include that a complete reading of the King decision leaves one with a clear understanding that the some of the Justices strongly suggest the legislature take a very close look at the UR process and the responsibilities of all those involved. As I understand it, dissenting opinions and those comments are as much a part of the Court’s opinion document as the explanation of the decision itself.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates




A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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