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Workers' Compensation: Lessons learned

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By BROOKS McCABE
For The State Journal

Workers' compensation reform in West Virginia has been one of the state's best efforts in recent years. As painful as the process was, there were a number of important lessons learned. Some of those lessons are outlined below:

 

  • Never waste a crisis, for therein lies the opportunity for real and meaningful change.
  • Involve the experts, but separate them from their constituent groups to avoid self-serving actions.
  • Be fair and reasonable with a long-term view.
  • Focus on systemic change, not incremental change.
  • Recognize that dollars will be taken out of the system, but show compassion for affected recipients and employees.
  • Have a single decision maker in charge with the authority to make tough calls.
  • Share information and decisions freely with the work group of experts and make sure everyone feels some of the pain.
  • Allow time for the positive outcomes to work their way through the system.
  • For implementation to be most effective, hire the best, pay what the expertise is worth and create an independent, nonpolitical board for oversight and review.
  • Privatization is not always the answer, but sometimes it is the best for a long-term, positive outcome as it helps to keep politics at a safe distance.
  • Champions are vital to success and they must be willing to lose their jobs, or an election, if they are to cause significant change. Self-serving champions lack credibility.
  • Be truthful, even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
  • Given a fair and reasonable system, most people will do the right thing. 
  • Change is hard, so when possible, soften the blow. 
  • If you are going to get into a fight, make sure the outcome is worth the effort, both economically and politically. Preserve your capital, as you may well need it for another day.
  • Share the glory; positive change is always the work of many.

 

Editor's note

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, has served in the West Virginia Senate since 1998. He played a part in the 2005 privatization of workers' compensation. As part of his role as special projects consultant to The State Journal, he offers some of his reflections on the process.