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Guest commentary: Workers’ comp bill fatally flawed

By Eric Borgerding

In “Workers’ comp must be fixed” in the March 17 edition, Jerry Deschane chalked up the failure to pass a workers’ compensation bill this year to the Legislature’s penchant for play-it-safe politics.

But the notion that the Legislature, for the first time since World War II, rejected a workers’ compensation bill for political expediency gives short shrift to the fact that it was a deeply flawed piece of legislation. Indeed, the so-called “agreed to” and typically rubber-stamped bill contained a self-prescribed poison pill, medical price controls, that proved fatal.

As Deschane wrote, Wisconsin’s “fine-tuned” workers’ compensation system offers insurance that is “relatively affordable and hassle-free in comparison to other states.” He emphasized that the system is one of Wisconsin’s economic assets. We agree.

In Wisconsin, the facts tell a clear story. Injured workers receive higher quality health care for lower-than-average treatment costs, even lower than many states with price controls, from our hospitals and health systems.

That high-value care results in Wisconsin workers getting healthy and returning to work a dramatic three weeks faster than in the average state. Further, annual growth in Wisconsin workers’ compensation medical payments dropped to 3 percent in 2012, while overall workers’ compensation insurance premiums have increased a grand total of .65 percent since 2009, or about .13 percent per year.

Higher quality care, more productive workers, decreasing medical spending and stable premiums mean real value and a real advantage for Wisconsin’s employees and employers.

However, data also shows Wisconsin has a lot of injured workers. But price controls won’t change that.

Health care providers can’t control how many are injured on the job, but our doctors and nurses in emergency rooms deliver some of the best care in the country. And injured workers in Wisconsin appreciate the excellent care they receive, reporting higher levels of satisfaction and, thus, lower litigation rates than in other states. That is good for Wisconsin employees and a real savings for our employers.

Instead of working with all stakeholders to find a solution that capitalizes on Wisconsin’s superior health system, some chose instead to go all in on price controls and tried to muscle them through a Legislature that is, to its great credit, disinclined toward worn out, big government solutions. That strategy didn’t work.

There are countless examples of Wisconsin’s hospitals and health systems working with employers, our best partners, to improve employee health and control costs. The employer/provider partnership in Wisconsin is a national model, a relationship the Wisconsin Hospital Association and our members believe is essential, and we put a high priority on building that relationship.

Let’s have the same approach when it comes to improving workers’ compensation.

Borgerding is the executive vice president of the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

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