Editor’s Note: Businesses and Workers are Getting Pounded

May, 2005

A funny thing happened on the way to the workplace – workers’ comp premiums in Hawaii rose 58 percent from 1999 to 2002, but benefit payments to Hawaii companies increased by only 6 percent. What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not as if the business community needs evidence the system is not working, far from it. Hawaii’s workers’ comp costs are still very high, even if we’re not the 3rd highest in the nation, as has erroneously been widely reported here. However, many of this year’s fixes focus on reducing fraud, but have little to do with making the system work better. The number of reported back injuries in Hawaii (a traditional cover for fakers) actually decreased between 1998 and 2002.

So what’s the answer? As Tom Cruise said in Top Gun, “I feel the need, the need for speed.” According to David K. Choo, who wrote this month’s cover story “Getting Hammered,” it’s all about speed. Reducing the conflict and adversarial nature of today’s workers’ comp process with one of trust and cooperation is the key to getting legitimate injured workers processed and treated faster and reducing associated costs. Both the public and private sectors took big strides this year toward better cooperation. Hawaii already had one or two successful models, so the formula for the “secret sauce” already exists.

While we look inward for a workers’ comp solution, we would also do well to look outward, according to Jacy L. Youn’s interview with futurist and Megatrends author, John Naisbitt. According to Naisbitt, “The global economy is self-organizing, moving toward a single, overlapping economy for everybody.” However, Naisbitt sees counter trends in human beings, tendencies to act more tribal and value what is uniquely local as the world gets more intertwined.

The key seems to be for each of us to be as aware and educated as possible about external forces beyond our control and to preserve and protect what is precious about Hawaii. If we all work together with true aloha, a fair workers’ compensation solution should be at hand. And, perhaps, as companies worldwide shift operations to places with lower labor costs, such as India and China, Hawaii can serve as a model for productive, well-run businesses, which have much to offer the rest of the world in terms of valuing employees and creating products and services, which are second to none.

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Kelli Abe-Trifonovich