The forming of policy, regulations and law in the world of workers’ compensation can be an intricate process. No matter the area of the law, they say that the making of regulatory and legislative content is like the making of sausage. You never want to see how it’s done. 

Or do we? My recent experiences definitely challenge that notion.

Last week the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation held an Executive Summit for the leadership of the agency. In 3 days of meetings there was a great deal of review of the state’s 2013 reforms; what worked and what still needs more attention. They also had a candid discussion about the direction they wanted to go over the next few years, with certain topics being identified as areas of action for the immediate future. I know this because I had the honor of being invited to attend the summit, and to be part of the process.  

Originally, I was not sure why I was invited. I suspected they needed someone to man the dunk tank. It turns out my role was to act more as a facilitator, as well as provide a broader perspective about trends in other states and across the nation. It was, for me, a fascinating experience, and fortunately there was no dunk tank.

The specifics of who attended, what they discussed and the directions they settled on will not be disclosed here. Suffice it to say that these meetings were all business, and the people of Tennessee can be assured they are being served well by talented people cognizant of their responsibilities towards their stakeholders and taxpayers. The leadership of this agency is passionate about what they do, and they take their duties seriously. It was a very impressive group. 

I have no idea how many other state workers’ compensation divisions go through this process, if any do at all. If they don’t it is something they should consider. The importance of getting away from distractions and taking an honest look in the mirror cannot be underestimated. For something like this to actually work, an agency needs to be willing to look at all sides of an issue and be able to acknowledge both success and failure. It is a situation where ego’s must be put aside, and frank discussion be encouraged. I am not sure that is something suited for every state – but it should be.

Admittedly, this concept is probably easier in Tennessee than it might be is some other jurisdictions. Reforms there have generally been viewed as a success, although, as with all comp systems, it has its detractors. Other more contentious states may find it too difficult to go through such a frank assessment process. Of course, a lack of ability in self-assessment may be a contributing reason as to why they are contentious in the first place.

In Illinois, for example, a state that is currently taking a bad system and working hard to make it worse, there might actually be a dunk tank; and it probably would use a vat of acid. That is not considered fully conducive to a proper critique of your processes.

The willingness for the Tennessee BWC to put everything on the table and address any shortcomings should be applauded. They are working to build the best system that can be created in an environment that can be quite adversarial. In every jurisdiction there are conflicting interests and political processes that must be considered in the management of workers’ compensation. The balanced approach they are employing, with input from leadership of all sections of their agency, should help in the process of pursuing their goals. As they say, laws and sausage have one thing in common; you never want to see how they are made. For me, this was a fascinating glimpse “behind the curtain,” and proved an excellent education in everyday jurisdictional challenges. I would like to thank Bureau Director Abbie Hudgens and her team for giving me just a brief glimpse into how the sausage can be properly seasoned.

It is a recipe that might prove quite tasty for other states as well.

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