A History Lesson: What it Means for the Health Care and Workers’ Comp Industries

Allow me to take off my blogger’s cap, and put away my MHA degree, and write about something I do know a lot about, and that is American history. After all, the MA after my name means “Master of Arts”.

On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley, was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, and died on September 14th. McKinley, who had been re-elected the previous November, was succeeded by his second Vice-President, Theodore Roosevelt.

When Roosevelt became the 26th President, the course of American history changed forever, or so it seemed, through most of the twentieth century. The fact that it did not completely change the course of history is the subject of this essay.

You are probably wondering what impact this all has on the American health care system, and workers’ compensation in particular.

The answer to that can be found in a statement made decades later by the anti-tax lobbyist and Bush 43 White House aide, Grover Norquist, who said, “his goal is to bring America back to what it was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over…

It was Roosevelt who first proposed national health insurance that future presidents, both Republican (Nixon) and Democrats wanted to create. Roosevelt also passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1904, which created the FDA, and led to food and drug safety.

For several decades in the late 19th century, progressive reformers had unsuccessfully tried to change things, and not always peacefully, as the various riots and bombings and strikes can attest to.

But after Roosevelt, and after his defeat in the 1912 election, progressives moved closer to the Democratic Party, first under Woodrow Wilson, then twenty years later, under Teddy’s cousin, Franklin.

It was during Taft’s last years in office, and Wilson’s first years, when workers’ comp laws were enacted by states. And in the years to follow, such reforms as direct election of senators, the right to vote for women, end of child labor, the right of unions to strike and bargain collectively were won, and unemployment insurance, social security, welfare, and many other social programs were created.

But some thirty-five years ago, that began to change, when men like Norquist became President, Senators, and Congressmen, and a slow process of destroying the social safety net began.

We are seeing this in the resistance to, and threat of repeal of the ACA, the assault on statutory workers’ comp through the expansion of opt-out, and the corruption of the workers’ compensation system by carriers, employers, judges, lawyers, physicians, and service providers.

To illustrate this point, David De Paolo wrote today about responses to two previous posts he wrote, in which several respondents made threatening remarks towards persons’ unknown, who had heaped further injury on already injured workers.

While I do not advocate personal harm towards any one claims person (I was one myself a long time ago, and was threatened, or so I was told, but never by whom), I have expressed the opinion that those who inflict pain on those already in pain, are inviting trouble. But that is to be directed towards the system, not a person.

In response to an article by Jodi Mathy about the employee experience of claim management, I said that such action should be,

“Not against claims people, but against a system that causes pain to people who are already in pain. WC was supposed to ameliorate the harshness of the laissez-faire, industrial revolution, not redistribute wealth. If that was the case, claims awards would be in millions.”

To further drive home this point, I quoted the following:

Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.”

Karl Marx

Now before any of you see red stars, or hammers and sickles before your eyes, calm down. I only quoted him because what he said was true when he wrote it, and could be true again in the future, if we allow ourselves to be deluded by those like Norquist who want to go back and party like it’s 1899.

So if you are afraid of socialism, just remember these inconvenient truths, or facts. One, many of us alive today would never have gone to college without socialism. Two, our parents would not have gone to college either, especially those who fought in WWII, Korea, and other conflicts. Three, our parents would not have been able to retire to Florida, Arizona, or anywhere else without Social Security, and would not have gotten medical care after 65 without Medicare, and if they were poor, Medicaid.

Four, all of you no doubt has flown for both business or pleasure. Do you not like the idea that there is a federal agency, the FAA that regulates airlines, and oversees airports? What about interstate highways, railroads, cruise ships, etc.? All of that because of socialism, although a limited form of socialism.

Last week, the GOP elected a new speaker, Paul Ryan. A while back, it occurred to me that since Ryan was a devotee of Ayn Rand, and Rand Paul was running for president, that there was a curious connection between the three of them. If you take Ayn Rand, then Rand Paul, then Paul Ryan, put their names together, you get “AynRandPaulRyan”, and if you take Ryan’s name, drop the “R” and move the “y” after the “a”, you get back to where you started.

It doesn’t mean anything, but it is curious, given their libertarian values.

And getting back to where we started, i.e., in 1789, is no way to run a modern, post-industrial society, so yes, history does matter, and both health care and workers’ comp will be the worse off if we forget it, as per Santayana.

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2 thoughts on “A History Lesson: What it Means for the Health Care and Workers’ Comp Industries

  1. Valerie Gardner

    RIchard, I liked this post a lot. It was beautifully written and you make an important point and remind us of facts that none of us can afford to forget, when we are fighting regressive forces. Thanks!

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    1. Transforming Workers' Comp Post author

      Valerie, thank you. These forces would have us believe that there was no progressive era, and that all of these programs are “entitlements”. when they really are the right things that governments do for their people. This is even more so with respect to workers’ comp, since some view it as a redistribution of wealth, when it really was supposed to redress the wrongs created by an unfeeling, free-market system. The Right will live to regret its assault on the rights of workers, because history will repeat itself, only this time more radically.

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