We’ve all heard of Conan the Barbarian. He was the fictional sword and sorcery hero who originated in pulp magazines in 1932 and has since been adapted to books, comics, and films. He is best known in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who originally portrayed him on the big screen in 1982. It was a breakthrough movie for Schwarzenegger, as he for the first time on film had to deliver his own lines*. Both of them. But as strong and virile Conan the Barbarian was, there is a new sheriff in town. One that has proven to be much stronger and more effective. 

And its name is Covid the Bureaucracy Buster.

The name of this new and unlikely superhero came up during a Regulators Roundtable at the recent annual conference of SAWCA, the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators. One of the regulators was speaking of the speed at which they were forced to adopt new methods and procedures in the face of unprecedented closures and restrictions. They made the comment that Covid was a real “bureaucracy buster,” and they were right (I would normally provide attribution here, but alas, I am a terrible note-taker, and I don’t actually remember who said it).

But they were right, whoever they were.

Covid accomplished in 4 to 6 weeks some things that would normally have taken years to come to fruition. In some cases, it forced changes that we just otherwise would never see. The rapid adoption of telemedicine is the most often cited example of the changes Covid enabled. There are others that are really no less significant. The elimination of the requirement for wet signatures was something that states provided in response to Covid. This enabled insurers and their representatives to continue paying benefits and operating in whatever normal fashion as possible given the circumstances. Covid also facilitated an entirely new and possibly permanent world of remote work for some regulatory agencies. While work from home was already being used in some capacity within the private sector, it was virtually unheard of in the realm of governmental organizations. Covid forced them to take a hard look at the feasibility of remote workers, and at least some of those agencies appear to be relaxing their stance on the policy.

Of course, we all know how dramatically Covid expanded remote worker opportunities for the private workforce. Personally, I could probably stop any of the massive numbers of cars I see with California, New York, and other blue state plates who came to Florida and never left to ask them about the impact (Calm down. This isn’t a political rant. “Blue state” is not a political observation as much as it reflected Covid lockdowns that people chose to escape here in the Free State of Florida). 

Ok, maybe it was a teeny political rant….

The real test will be whether the positive changes Covid the Bureaucracy Buster enabled will remain after our world returns to normal – make that if our world ever returns to normal. It was pointed out to the SAWCA regulators by a representative of a major insurer that some of those changes, like the elimination of wet signature requirements, worked with little or no negative impact. They begged them not to revert to their old ways once the crisis had passed. Many of the changes brought by the pandemic were in fact positive ones. They forced a heavily regulated and slow-moving industry to adapt and adopt at a breathtaking speed. In the end, the workers’ compensation industry will be stronger and more efficient as a result.

And to think we owe it all to a pandemic. The virus was known for many bad things, but it may also now be recognized for the positive changes it forced on an often complacent and immovable industry. That may be, for the workers’ compensation industry, what we ultimately gained from Covid the Bureaucracy Buster. 

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* For the uninitiated, Arnold’s first feature-length film was Hercules in New York. Shot in 1969, the young Austrian bodybuilder had all of his lines replaced, or “dubbed” by producers because of his heavy accent. The film has since been restored to its original soundtrack.

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