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Workers' Compensation: Lessons learned

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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.