The year is 2022. The world is an overpopulated and polluted place, where the oceans are dead and many common creatures are now extinct. The wealthy elite live in the protected countryside, while the great unwashed masses reside amid general squalor in crowded tenements within the cities. The population of New York is over 40,000,000. Trees are only found in museums. Most people depend for survival on rations manufactured by a large and heartless conglomerate. The future of mankind is bleak, indeed.

This is not the script for a new Al Gore movie, or a Democratic National Committee position paper on Republican policies. No, it is the storyline of a 1973 movie called “Soylent Green”, starring Charlton Heston. In this bleak and heartless fictional world, most people are dependent on rations called “Soylent Green”, manufactured by the Soylent Corporation. Heston's character, a New York detective investigating a murder, stumbles across a secret that no one in power wants revealed. Soylent Green, it turns out, is made from the remains of dead people.

As he is taken away by authorities at the end of the movie, he can be heard screaming, “Soylent Green is people!”

And the same can be said for workers' compensation regulators.

I spent much of last week at the Southern Association of Workers' Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) All Committee Conference at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. While I have been fairly active in the IAIABC, another regulators association, this was my first time at a SAWCA event.

The job of a workers' compensation regulator is a difficult and thankless one. Usually appointed by their state's Governor, they are considered by many as part of the political elite, far removed from the trenches where the masses toil on a daily basis. They are, for some, faceless bureaucrats, whose sole mission in life is to confuse and bewilder; whose simple joy is found in the creation of impossible complexities to confound and complicate the “great unwashed” within our industry. It is an unfair and inaccurate view.

In my experience, both at IAIABC and now SAWCA, most regulators are dedicated professionals genuinely concerned with overseeing the best system possible. I have found them very open and approachable. They are, quite generally, regular people provided limited resources and tasked with doing the impossible; take what the legislators provide and make sense of it. Oh, and while they are at it, they must deal with multiple stakeholders with different viewpoints and objectives, and keep them all happy. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

At this SAWCA event, I moderated a panel that was created specifically for me. It was called, “Things that make me go, Hmmmm, with Bob Wilson”. On the panel was Kentucky Commissioner Dwight Lovan, Georgia Chairman Frank McKay, New Mexico General Counsel Rachel Bayless, and AIG Government Relations Officer Tom Glasson. There were no restrictions on what I could ask, and these participants did not receive my questions in advance. There were candid discussions on Opt Out, Medical Marijuana and addressing the growing disability problem. My personal highlight was when I got to ask them, “As regulators you must deal with a variety of stakeholders. Which ones are the biggest pain in the ass?”

I got some very honest answers to that question – answers that I will not share here, as I promised to keep their specific responses confidential in order to foster a more open dialogue (If we do it again you will just have to attend the next SAWCA meeting to know what they said). Suffice it to say that these are people who deeply care about what they do, and their answers were anything but that expected of faceless bureaucrats (although Frank McKay should probably someday run for Governor – his answer showed skilled political adeptness).

The real challenge for these people is they are essentially temporary employees assigned to the regulatory world. Some of them may not even have come to their position with much experience in workers' comp. Those that have comp experience may still be challenged, as our heavily compartmentalized world means that one section of our industry does not fully understand the process of other sections. This often means a very steep learning curve must be applied for new regulators assuming their roles. However, I can assure you that the vast majority of people I have met in these roles care about what they do, and take their responsibilities very, very seriously.

There is little doubt that we, the great unwashed masses that toil in the trenches of workers' comp, do not spend a great deal of time thinking of those who run this complex system. When we do however, we should be assured that despite the sometimes archaic world they oversee, many regulators are doing the best with the assets they have. They are human, and as such are as fallible as the rest of us. We would be better off if we remembered that fact from time to time.

After all, regulators is people, too.

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