WCRI: Day One, Part Two: The 1st Opt-Out Session

March 10th, 2016 by Tom Lynch

The afternoon of WCRI’s 2016 Annual Conference was devoted to Opt-Out. The first of two sessions was a Point-Counterpoint exercise. Trey Gillespie of the Property & Casualty Association of America led off. To Mr. Gillespie, with Opt-Out it’s 1910 all over again. He described Opt-Out in Texas and Oklahoma as allowing employers to deliver sub-standard care to injured workers without government oversight. Showing stark contrasts between what is allowed in Opt-Out and required in workers’ compensation, he suggested that employees were at the mercy of employers, which could sometimes be good and sometimes be bad. Opt-Out’s a kind of Employer Personal Responsibility Plan.

Bill Minick, of PartnerSource, followed with a presentation in favor of “Options to Workers’ Compensation.” Minick has been the loudest proponent and most significant advocate for Opt-Out. He and Opt-Out were the subject of a Propublica investigative journalism story late last year. He described Opt-out as a substantial improvement on a failed system and painted a picture of employers being able to provide better care for injured workers at less cost, because regulatory and bureaucratic requirements have been stripped out. Essentially, Minick claims that the workers’ compensation system makes employers go from Massachusetts to Rhode Island by way of Alex Swedlow’s California. He’d rather just drive the 30 miles down Route 95.

My basic problem with Opt-Out, wherever it is, is that some employers with resources and good intentions welcome the chance to design their own injury benefit plans that will provide benefits at least as good as traditional workers’ compensation at significantly less cost. This, in itself, is a good thing. Some large employers in Texas, such as Costco, seem to have done that. Trouble is, not every employer is Costco. As I wrote when I evaluated Opt-Out in 2014, I’m concerned about Kenny’s Citgo, down the street and around the corner, where Kenny and his five hourly workers labor without the benefits of a mandated workers’ compensation plan, because Kenny has Opted-Out. There are more Kenny’s than Costcos.

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