For the many people who have been advocating a shift in our workers’ compensation claims handling philosophy the last few years, this year’s National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in Las Vegas was not a disappointment. The “Advocacy Based Claims” movement received front and center attention this year, with conference Chair Roberto Ceniceros noting during the opening session that, while the industry has been talking about the concept for some time, this year’s “Teddy Award Winners” were potentially providing the first true results of that philosophy in action. 

Discussions at the Teddy Awards presentation focused shifting the emphasis to the employees themselves, as well as their “healing process.” One of the company’s honored, Starbucks, utilized multiple measures that included “advocacy, engagement of their employees, and self-reporting claims.” The impressive results they achieved included a 50% reduction in litigated claims, as well as a decrease in reporting lag time for injuries.

Many of the conference sessions also seemed to be in line with an advocacy mindset. Vickie Kennedy and Ryan Guppy of Washington’s L&I reviewed the significant results they are seeing with their new Vocational Recovery Project. The general session “60 Tips in 60 Minutes” contained numerous employee centric suggestions in line with the advocacy mindset. I had the opportunity to present “Turning the Churn: A Vision for Workers’ Recovery,” a program initially developed by Mark Pew and me for the Judicial College held at WCI last August. It focused on changing the language we use to improve communication and outcomes for the workers’ in our system.

Overall, a large part of this year’s theme seemed to be focused on restoring humanity to an overly technical process. 

For those of us who have been actively advocating for these changes, it was an encouraging agenda; yet I find it surprising that something so basic and obvious in philosophy has taken so long to reach this point. After all, there have been examples of its effectiveness available for many years. Anyone familiar with Bill Zachry and his experience at Safeway has already known about the power of a worker centered advocacy model. Employers who are paying attention should really take a hard look at their current process and philosophy. 

Still, the shift in that philosophy at the conference was palpable, and welcome. It was a validation that the continued discussion and debate is making a difference. Certainly, the CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) will continue to criticize and demean the proposed ideas; there will always be critics and naysayers of any concept. The “this is the way we’ve done it for 30 years” crowd will not give up easily – but the days of their backwards looking vision are numbered. 

And the seeming embrace of the Advocacy Based Claims concept at this years’ national conference seems to confirm that it is an idea whose time has come. 


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