Worker’s Compensation Outdated?

According to an economist working with the healthcare reform for Massachusetts and the Obama administration, workers’ compensation needs to bring itself up to speed with the other changes happening in the healthcare system to prevent increased costs.

A professor at MIT, Jonathan Gruber, encouraged the attendants of the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute conference to think about how workers’ compensation fits into the country’s changing healthcare system.

While answering questions regarding how Obamacare affects workers’ comp, Professor Gruber stated that although workers’ compensation may receive fewer claims as more Americans become insured, other factors may cause higher costs and greater hurdles.

For instance, any benefits could be disrupted by companies turning to plans with high deductibles and restricting doctor networks. Many insurance providers are also limiting how much doctors are reimbursed. Gruber says that the current state of workers’ compensation is outdated and that it is only getting worse. It is essential to figure out how to bring workers’ compensation in line with other areas of healthcare.

Gruber also states that the country is moving from open-provider networks to more restrictive ones, and that large deductibles are suitable for people with high incomes. He says, “This is what we need to do.”

However, he expressed uncertainty about how these trends will impact workers’ comp. Gruber said, “If workers’ compensation stays how it is, it’ll provide the widest doctor network available and the lowest shared costs. More and more people will turn to it.”

When asked about how so many more insured Americans will impact access to doctors, he replied that as soon Massachusetts’ healthcare reform began, the typical waiting period to see a physician jumped from 47 to 51 days. He admits that it is not ideal either way, but it is due to a relative shortage of general practitioners while specialists are too prevalent. He went on to blame the current reimbursement system and stated that it is in need of repair.

Professor Gruber served as an adviser for Mitt Romney, then Governor of Massachusetts while the state’s healthcare reform was being created. He also served as an adviser for Congress and the Obama Administration when the ACA was being designed. The ACA is based off Massachusetts’ reform law.

Gruber, admitting his personal bias, claimed that the results of the reform in Massachusetts were excellent. It reduced the state’s uninsured to a mere 3 percent, as opposed to the national 18 percent, and helped repair a fractured insurance market. He stated that the law in Massachusetts was not intended to fix healthcare prices, but it has still impacted them.

When asked about Obamacare’s success, he said it is too soon to make assumptions. He also says, “Both sides are saying too much. It’s just too early to know for certain and we must give it time.” Gruber states that the reform law should be reviewed in three years, not while it is still in its infancy.