A workers’ compensation trial lawyer with over 30 years of experience representing companies including Alcoa, United Airlines, and Bethlehem Steel predicts that the number of workers’ comp claims will double within 10 years due to three major trends.
Phil Walker, a national trial counsel for employers in California workers’ comp cases, made his prediction at the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP) annual conference in San Francisco. He is the founder of the Phil Walker Work Comp Savings Company.
Of the three trends, Walker says the first one is the most important.
1. Technology eliminating low-paying jobs
Walker says in the next 10 years, 70% of minimum wage jobs will be eliminated and a significant percentage of medium-wage jobs will also disappear.
Examples: Wendy’s is pioneering order counters where customers key in their own food choices on touch screens – no order-taker necessary.
Amazon says many of its warehouse jobs will be eliminated by robots.
Even in medicine, diagnostic tools are now able to do some of the work formerly performed by a lab technician.
What happens when low-paying jobs are eliminated? The people who used to hold them file workers’ comp claims.
2. Ever increasing number of municipal bankruptcies
The list of municipalities filing for bankruptcy is growing: Detroit; San Bernardino, CA; Stockton, CA; Harrisburg, PA. The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is also facing this fate.
In many places, the government is the top employer.
What happens when companies, municipalities, and other organizations file for bankruptcy?
Retiree benefits, particularly healthcare, are cut or eliminated.
Example: Walker says when United Airlines filed for bankruptcy, 100% of the people who “retired” filed a workers’ comp claim. When United tried to enter negotiations to settle these claims, not one person would settle.
Cities across the nation are facing $4 trillion in pension obligations, according to Walker – and increasingly, they can no longer afford it.
Chicago is considering a new tax to cover its pension obligations. Without the tax, it may default on pensions.
3. Doctors seeking more money
Walker doesn’t mince words. In two presentations at the AOHP conference, he called doctors “whores.” (Both times he did this, he received cheers and applause from the audience.)
Walker presented this progression of events in workers’ comp cases:
- Doctors get patients any way they can and provide surgery or any and all services they possibly can.
- They refer their patients to other doctors such as specialists, psychologists, and those who specialize in pain management.
- They bill at two to three times their actual costs and settle with insurance companies for 40% of what they billed.
- Why are doctors doing this with more frequency? They can’t survive on what they get paid through Obamacare and Medicare.
What will this mean to the occupational safety and health field?
Walker lists three things:
- Companies will require their retiring or laid-off employees to submit to pre-termination physicals. The people leaving the companies’ employment will be screened for anything and everything that might result in a workers’ comp claim. These exams will establish a baseline of the employee’s health when they left employment so an employer can prove that an injury didn’t happen at the workplace.
- Those who work in occupational safety and health will have to gather more data on non-occupational problems – things that happen outside of the workplace. Why? Because this data will become the basis of pending workers’ comp claims.
- Occupational safety and health employees will be involved in gathering more data from more diagnostic tests and lab work. Once again, this is to establish baseline measurements to prove people’s problems weren’t from work; rather they occurred off the job. Walker’s predictions lead us to wonder: How will you have any time to tend to the workplace safety and health of the employees who are still working for you?