Earlier this week we shared a post on the RETRO program, and the bureaucratic problems it will create that will be keenly and painfully felt by workers.
The RETRO Program has inserted a profit motive into a system designed to spread claims costs across the state as a whole. This profit motive has created a new industry in our state – the administration and oversight by independent groups of the administration and oversight of claims already performed by the Department of Labor and Industries. These independent groups shave a portion of an employer’s refund as payment of their fees with promises of reduced claims costs and increased rebates in exchange.
Some of these groups advertise their ability to gain rebates of 11%, 15%, 17% from premiums paid by the employer. One – The Building Association of Washington or the BIAW – advertises that it helped their employer clients receive refunds of 51.8% last year. To my eye, that is more than good claims practices. It is robbing the workers and tax payers of this state.
I can assure you that the workers who paid into our state-wide system through payroll deduction did not receive 51.8% refunds.
Our legislature is scrambling through an extended session to craft a budget for the coming biennium, facing the daunting task of cutting programs that provide essential services to the neediest members of our society. The Department of Labor and Industries routinely used excess premiums to invest as a means of lessening the cost of claims for everyone involved. With enormous rebates, though, they are instead running close to the bone.
Most RETRO groups provide review and analysis of workplace conditions and practices in an effort to prevent injury claims in the first place. Some, including the largest RETRO group in the state, the aforementioned BIAW, also take funds from employer rebates and convert them into huge lobbying efforts focused not only on reform of the workers’ compensation system but of the structure of our government overall.
The BIAW was a major financial backer of the defeated gubernatorial candidate in the last race, Dino Rossi, causing more than just a stir as the power of its financial push rippled across the state. Their stated goal is to “unite those in the building industry in Washington State in their fight against a government that has made this industry among the most regulated in the nation.” They are a full-service provider, further stating:
“Besides battling big government, BIAW offers a variety of programs and services that can help put your business on top. The BIAW Return on Industrial Insurance (R.O.I.I.®) Program, Political Program, Legislative Program, Education Program, Legal Program, Health Insurance Program, Safety Assistance Program, Public Relations Program, and Membership Program offers valuable tools you can use to grow your business.” [Emphasis added. Ed.]
No independent groups provide similar resources for workers. Unions have been the intended protector of workers during the last century but have been diminished since the Reagan era to the point where less than 7% of the workforce is covered by a union. Even those workers who are represented by a union have limited resources when injured on the job, as the union leadership often lacks expertise in workers’ compensation claims.
I advocate for a return to parity through the removal of the profit motive created by the RETRO Program. The decrease in the currently-ridiculous level of claim scrutiny would allow doctors to be doctors and patients to be patients instead of litigants and witnesses. Further reform to allow injured workers to seek repayment of legal fees and costs when they prevail in the administrative court would also level the playing field between workers and employers.