A few weeks back I wrote about the most recent Opt Out news, a ProPublica/NPR article looking at the Federal Governments potential interference in workers' comp with Opt Out being a final ingredient in the interventional stew. In that article I had a bit of fun with a public relations firm hired by ARAWC, the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers' Compensation, which is a trade association of employers looking to expand Opt Out to states beyond Texas and Oklahoma. A statement from the firm, Jones Public Relations, referred to their client, ARAWC, as the “Association for Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation”.

They completely omitted the word “Responsible” in the statement. It was a gaffe noted here, then picked up and tweeted by numerous people, including Michael Grabell, author of the ProPublica article that started the entire conversation to begin with.

While we all had a good chuckle at what we thought to be an obvious mistake, the PR firm appeared to double down on that notion the very morning after my article was published. A representative claiming to be calling for ARAWC (I would later confirm via LinkedIn that the person worked for Jones PR) called my office and wanted to speak to me. They wanted to provide comment on the story. I was not in the office, as I was attending a conference in Raleigh, NC. The associate who relayed the message to me was laughing when doing so, as the person in the office who took the message, a person who had not read my blog and had no idea about the omitted “Responsible”, had written down the name, “Association for Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation”.

I'll be damned. They did it again; omitted the word “Responsible”. Even after an article skewering them for omitting the most important word in their name, they did the exact same thing in that phone call the following day. Could this be a coincidence? Or do they know something we don't?

Then, earlier this week, Jennifer Jordan of MedVal weighed in on the topic in her Medicare Set-Aside blog, citing my article and further tying the Opt Out movement to potential MSA motivations. She speculates that “some of the opt outs are trying to implement lifetime spending limits so that when it comes time to do an MSA, you are not paying for all current treatment and contingencies in perpetuity with no exceptions”.

It is an interesting take that is worth reading completely. I am neither prepared nor inclined to argue with Jen, who quite frankly scares me a little bit, but mostly because, if she is correct, it is another notch on the “Opt Out of Responsible” gun grip (or headboard, which may be more appropriate symbolism in the grander scheme of things).

If anything, the proposed Opt Out legislation in Tennessee really reflects this flight from responsibility. Proponents there are seeking a $500,000 cap on liability for workplace injuries. That certainly plays into Jordan's speculation, as anyone who has hit a legally accommodated cap in costs has no reason to concern themselves with the long term wellbeing of the injured worker. That would just become Social Security's concern. Once that cap is hit, it is literally not the employers' problem – not their responsibility.

Remember, we are not talking about Texas style Non-Subscription here, where the employer is at least at risk for unlimited tort liability; this is Oklahoma style Opt Out, where employers are seeking to leave the workers' comp system, but still retain many of the liability protections they enjoy within the system.

Jordan seems to recognize that Opt Out isn't only geared for workers' comp, but it may also be an attempt to Opt Out of MSA requirements. She urges employers, “Rather than the attempts at writing arbitrary benefit limits into the state laws or opt out plans that harm only those truly in need of lifetime care, simply own your responsibilities to those same injured workers without CMS involvement and come up with other creative ways to provide for post-settlement medical care.”

Jen, Jen, Jen. The problem with that suggestion, as noble as it may be, lies directly within the sentence itself. I call your attention to the words “own your responsibilities”. It is pretty clear by now that Opt Out, despite all the hype to the contrary, is not about owning responsibilities. It seems to be just the opposite. It is a closed and secretive system, specifically designed so at the participant employers behest and direction. Owning responsibilities does not appear to be in the mix.

No, “Responsible” is not a word easily applied to the Opt Out system as it is being realized. Even the Opt Out advocates’ public relations firm seems to have figured that out.

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