As has been fairly well publicized, I recently had the opportunity to sit on a bloggers panel at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in Las Vegas. Much of the discussion surrounded the nature of workers comp in today’s environment, and what we would like to see changed in the system.

One thing that became apparent very quickly was that we all seem to agree the growing trend towards “greater disability” is a clear and present danger to the effectiveness and stability of our industry as well as our overall economy. Joe Paduda put it best when he said, essentially, that the workers’ comp industry has become a creator of disability.

He is right. Last month 8.8 million people were on the Social Security Disability roles. That is up from 8.5 million a couple months prior, which is up from 7.2 million a couple years back. Those 8.8 million people receive an average of $1,070 each per month. SSDI will, without some sort of intervention, be broke by the year 2018 with these current trends.

A big part of the bloggers discussion was our industry’s contribution to that problem.

Workers’ comp focus has evolved to one where we now process claims versus helping people recover. The overriding goal of the overworked adjuster today is to “close the claim”, and we often do that in the most expedient way possible. In many states that support permanent partial ratings, it is simpler and faster to “settle” on a body part and be done than it is to work to restore function and relevance of the injured worker.

This situation is aggravated by elements within the system that are supposed to represent the interests of the injured worker, but do not necessarily do so. Those elements often drive the trend to disability dependency for those people.

And in a world where impairment represents a surmountable challenge, disability equals irrelevance for the injured worker.

You may wonder about my use of the word “relevance” in conjunction with this discussion on disability. In my view the two are inextricably linked, and one cannot be employed without considering the impact on the other. A person who believes themselves totally disabled will lack a contributory relevance to the economy and those people around them. They will no longer produce anything, or provide any meaningful contribution to society at an economic level. They will, for all ostensible purposes, become a ward of the state, or whatever system from which they draw their sustenance and support. They will become modern day slaves in a new disability dependency.

We need to take an honest look at the processes we use to put people there. I have been an open advocate of changing the terminology and attitude of how we manage these cases. I believe in “Recovery Management”, where virtually everyone in the system becomes a recovering worker. Adjusters become Recovery Specialists, and anyone injured on the job would know from day one that they are headed back to the workplace.

Total disability equals total economic irrelevance, and no human should be placed in that position without every effort to the contrary. We need to assess as an industry what our greater role is as it pertains to the disability crisis, and make sure we make every effort to see we stop feeding the disability beast.

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