Oct 30, 2009

Workers' Compensation Reform - a Case Study #1:
Approximately 15 years ago, Colorado had an opportunity to pass a voter initiative called "The Safe Workplace Amendment." On its face, this amendment to the Colorado Constitution was not controversial. The initiative simply stated that if an employee was injured directly as a result of a dangerous condition neglected or initiated by an employer, then an employee could elect not to be limited by Colorado's Workers' Compensation system and instead could choose to bring a district court lawsuit, including the right to a jury trial, against the employer who created the unsafe condition.

From the worker's point of view, it granted a chance for a disabled worker to achieve more complete compensation for a life time of future care. For the Workers' Comp insurance companies, it would lessen the occasions when strained resources were devoted simply to mitigate blatant acts of negligence that "Errors and Omissions" insurance should have to cover by overtly irresponsible employers. Seemingly a "win-win" right?

But ultimately the initiative was soundly defeated by Colorado voters

So...What Happened?
T.V. commercials sponsored by huge out of state insurance companies basically lied to the public in ad after ad about what this initiative was really about. They deceptively made it look like it was a trial lawyer's idea of paradise-a complete fabrication of facts, mind you, but the commercials were sure scary and convincing.

Workers' Compensation Reform - a Case Study #2:
Some years later, another seemingly non-partisan issue was placed before Colorado voters during a general election. This initiative called for changing the Workers' Compensation system rule that allows insurance companies to select the doctor with which an injured worker must treat after a work-related injury. It would have changed the rule to permit the injured worker to select his own physician.

For the injured worker, this initiative seemed to be more consistent with other Colorado injury and insurance laws. For instance, in motor vehicle or slip-and-fall cases, the insurance company doesn't have the right to control the doctor under which an injured person treats. For the more conservative amongst us, employers selecting the injured worker's doctor sounds like Marx's view of utopia and must be changed.

But again, on election night the measure was decisively defeated - so much so that no legislature has even talked about the issue in public in the last ten years.

So...What Happened?
Large Out-of-State Insurance Companies hired an advertising agency to create a clever commercial suggesting that if the initiative passed, workers would be treated by spiritual healers and witch doctors with swinging pendulums and turbans. They then ran this ad on nearly every Colorado television station for 60 days - all day and all night.

The Colorado voting public, including an overwhelming numbers of labor workers, ultimately voted that they would rather have an insurance company select their treating physician for their serious job-related injuries rather than have the personal right to select their own doctor.

If I had ever thought of running for political office, on that night that ambition died.

Lesson Learned?
Big business, advertisers, and Karl Rove-like spin-doctors vastly dominate over the one-man/one-vote myth.

Health Care Reform
Now comes a proposal from a new administration whose idea is neither new nor on its face controversial.

We are a nation of 300 million. But, a recorded 1 out of 6 of us do not have any type of health insurance. The Universal Health Care Initiative simply calls for those currently not insured to be placed on a government sponsored medical insurance plan, similar to Medicare, so as to bring the nearly 50 million of our nations uninsured into a system of coverage.

Is this a novel idea from the charismatic young Obama? Nope. England, France, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Holland, Japan, and at least 30 of the world's top developed countries have such a system, each with their health care systems dating back 50 years or more. With little exception, each of their economies are either on par or currently better than ours, their taxes are on par or less than ours, and on average their citizens live 3 to 5 years longer than ours. So, passage of such a program would be a huge step forward for at least 1/6th of the public, who are currently uninsured, and would put us once again on par with nearly every other developed country on this planet.

What About the Cost?
Even when looking at this proposal from a fiscal conservative point of view, the same conclusion is reached: the current costs of our health care system are overwhelming and excessive; the cost to do nothing is much greater than doing something.

  1. Unpaid hospital/medical bills are the single greatest explanation of individual personal bankruptcy in the United States. This has been true for more than 30 years and contrary to what some might suggest wholly eclipses the sub-prime mortgage issues and the statics show that is isn't even close. Over 60% of all bankruptcies are due to staggering medical costs.

  2. Hospitals in the United States are largely at or near bankruptcy due the strangling debt they carry of uncollected medical treatment charges which are incurred by the uninsured.

  3. Medical students choosing careers in Family Practice, once considered the cornerstone of success and the single most needed sub-specialty in America, are at an alarming record low. These days Family Practice is a euphemism for poverty medicine. Students with $300,000 plus of medical school loans know that they will never be free from this debt if they have to deal with the sheer volumes of slow-pay or no-pay patients.

  4. America has largely sacrificed the ability to establish a doctor/patient relationship with a physician who can work with his patient on preventive medicine (as they do in nearly all other developed nations) in favor of picking up McTreatment from a Doc-in-Box (and usually actually a nurse to boot) in a poorly facilitated Urgent Care facility.

  5. Less healthy people in America means more disabled workers leaving the workforce earlier, and burdening an already overburdened Social Security system. Lesser supplies of healthy workers, means prime workers can demand greater wages and benefits, and that reduces corporate profit margins. Accordingly, suddenly, after decades of total dominance, our US labor workforce is not competitive with workforce's in other countries. That causes jobs, resources and money to hemorrhage out of the United States for parts unknown. In turn, that hurts our bottom line and jeopardizes the United States' continued standing as a 1st world economy, let alone a Super-Power (words that are rarely uttered internationally when referring to the United States).

So, looking at the proposal, its non-uniqueness, its business sensibilities, and its empirical success as a world wide health care model throughout the world since the end of World War II, there is nothing about this proposal that anyone should be opposing, right? Wrong!!

Similar to other home-grown encounters with Karl Rove-like tactics, our Colorado airwaves are beginning to be saturated with commercials equating the Health care initiative with Communism, Nazis, and even suggesting that "death panels" will decide who lives and who dies.

I can't help be feel like I've heard this sort of clever and yet fictitious version of facts before. These commercials are, not surprisingly, sponsored by lobbyists hired by insurance executives who like the current system where they hold all the cards and are trying desperately to make this non-partisan issue "Barrack Obama's Waterloo." That's a quote from one of them! This to them is only about politics and the suffering masses are again not even a consideration.

Now, putting all of these lofty public policy issues away for a moment, I have practiced law in Denver Colorado exclusively devoted to issues involving injury, health care, and future medical needs starting into my 19th year. With daily experience in the trenches, I have some commonly accepted notions amongst everyone who sees what we see that I wish to share with the Colorado voters.

What I've Seen and What We Know:

  1. Statistics of the Uninsured
    Nationally the statisticians are saying that around 50,000,000 people (1/6th of the US population) are without health insurance. So, with an excessively busy legal practice devoted solely to injury law in one of the least economically effected upwardly mobile markets, what percentage of my clients would you figure have health insurance? 90%? No. 85%? Nope. The answer is 50% - just half of them.

In fact, often times the majority our new clients coming in the door hoping to recover from injuries have no insurance. So, conservatively I tell you half the people that we service are members of families with no health insurance whatsoever. So, are the US statics accurate? I truly believe that the representation that merely 1/6th (50 million) are without health insurance is excessively under reporting the problem.

  1. Level of Care for the Uninsured
    When we represent clients who have no health insurance, we recognize that often the treatment they will receive is likely to be compromised if not substantially compromised.

Doctors concerned about getting paid will identify the need for an expensive diagnostic test or even a permanent disability avoiding surgery and then in the next paragraph of their report release the patient due to lack of health insurance.

These patients have greater delays in getting care, they have more days off without pay from work, their health care charges are always excessively greater than a similar patient with insurance, and are exceedingly vulnerable to ending up filing personal bankruptcy. They are overwhelmingly more susceptible to parasitic cash advance loan companies, exposed to more occasions of medical charge billing fraud, and much less likely to ever regain their pre-accident physical health than clients with health insurance.

Perhaps my experience is rather limited. After all, our firm has only represented many thousands of Colorado's most injured. My generalities emphasized above are not really sweeping and emotional statements. In fact, I actually cannot think of a single client without health insurance who ever ended up better off, i.e. financially more compensated, healthier, etc., than a single client who had health insurance. There might be an exception here or there, but I am certain that any attorney would be hard pressed to present a situation where an injured person was better off without health insurance.

For people like me, in the trenches every single day fighting for my injured clients' rights and trying desperately to get their families financially back from the Hell they often suffer following an injury to a breadwinner, this is not a political issue. This is not a judgment call. Reasonable opinions cannot disagree. This is a matter of correct vs. incorrect.

Simply stated: To let the insurance industry continue to control our minds through clever, but factually bankrupt commercials predicting the doom and gloom to follow universal health care, is just wrong. It is time to bury the Karl Rove-like tactics that have allowed nation after nation to gain advantage over us, and universal health care needs to be passed this legislative session.

We are providing a link to proper advocacy groups that we have no affiliation with whatsoever, but to whom you can let your voice be heard. The legislature needs to hear from you even as they are being hounded by the insurance propaganda machine.

At Anderson Hemmat, we believe that every American citizen should have health care, but if you don't and you find yourself injured through no fault of your own, we will work diligently to make sure your health and financial needs are taken care of.


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