Initiative 1082, which now has enough signatures to get on November's ballot, is complicated, but worth paying attention to especially in an economic climate that needs stimulating.
The initiative would let private insurers sell industrial insurance in Washington state and compete against the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries, which has all but a monopoly on the market. Select companies such as the Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. are big enough to self insure.
So what are the benefits of such a change, something that proponents will tell you is the law of the land in 46 other states? The added competition would force all parties to provide the best services at a competitive price if they want to stay in business. That means L&I would have to do the same. The change could stimulate the economy. With a more diversified array of products, a private insurance company increases its chances of staying in business and may even present job opportunities. And in this dismal economic climate, sensible and creative changes ought to be considered.
The downside is that ultra conservative organizations such as Building Industry Association of Washington, Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Contract Loggers Association and the Associated Builders and Contractors are the primary backers. And while good ideas should not be dismissed because of that, the fact that more centrist organizations are steering clear of it is interesting. Why? Because the I-1082 is all about helping employers not employees. And that is what has us concerned.
This is not a balanced initiative. There is nothing in it for employees except problems. By privatizing insurance, more legitimate claims will be denied. Health insurance companies, for example, actually have people on the payroll whose job it is to find ways to deny claims. Who wins there? The employer and the insurer, definitely not the employee. And definitely not unions. Unions meanwhile, such as the Teamsters, point out that Washington pays out the third highest benefits to injured workers while costs are fifth lowest. A yes vote on I-1082 would put an end to that and invite out-of-state insurers to come in and, essentially invest profits outside Washington.
There are legitimate arguments on both sides. More competition may bring more jobs. More competition may increase claim denials. And when it comes to making sure we can feed our families and pay the rent after suffering a debilitating accident at work, we shouldn't skimp. Besides, if employers and insurers really want to save money, it's reforming health insurance, not workers compensation, they should set their sights on.[[In-content Ad]]