In 1911, our legislators passed the nation’s first Worker’s Compensation program. It was pretty heady stuff back then. For the first time, workers who were injured or got sick on the job had insurance coverage which could bridge the econmic gap until they went back to work.
104 years later, Wisconsin’s program is still considered a role model for the rest of the nation. There is virtually no cost to taxpayers because it is funded by insurance carriers. Wisconsin gets workers back on the job faster and cheaper than most other states. And it’s bureaucratically efficient. The Worker’s Compensation program is a classic example of good government in action.
We should not mess with success.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s lawmakers are considering legislation to dismantle the current law. Instead of a joint council of labor and management working together to resolve issues, the proposed legislation turns Worker’s Compensation into a political hot potato. Instead of one agency fairly, consistently and efficiently handling the program, it would be split between two.
The economic stability of the program – which keeps costs down for everyone – would be put at risk. Worse yet, without the economic protections currently in place, taxpayers could pick up the bill for any additional work-related injuries or illnesses.
Here’s the irony. The program works so well that it’s unlikely the changes will save any money, and in all candor, it will probably cost more. The Worker’s Compensation program is the rare example of a government program working so well it pays for itself.
Consider that some 80% of the workers who end up in the Wisconsin system successfully navigate the program without a hearing or a lawyer. Compare that to Illinois where claimants use their formal litigation process in nearly two-of-three cases. By splitting a well-functioning program across two agencies the likely result is less consistent rulings which could mean workers are more likely to need a lawyer to help with an appeal.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson said the proposed change was about streamlining the program to bring it into line with other states like Florida and Texas. But, as the story pointed out, Florida’s worker’s comp law was recently declared unconstitutional and the Texas law lets employers opt out which can force workers into the civil justice system and more litigation.
Don’t tear down the gold standard of good government just for the sake of moving a few deck chairs around. Republicans and Democrats have worked together on our Wisconsin program for more than a century. Labor and management work out their differences across the table just like the old days. Taxpayers save money and the system works, largely, without lawyers. You want lean government? This is lean government.
The Governor wants to create what he calls the Office of Lean Government. I cannot imagine a better example to start with than maintaining our Worker’s Compensation program – a national model of fairness, cost effectiveness, and political bi-partisanship.