Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When will Electronic Billing come to Florida?

This fall, New Jersey joined the modern world of medical services, with a law requiring electronic medical billing. In the electronic age of smart phones, the Internet, email and more, paper bills and envelopes remains the predominant business practice for medical billing. It is a topic that raises curiosity and questions. Why is the medical industry, otherwise so enamored with technology, mired in the 20th Century?

In workers' compensation and other medical delivery systems, we consistently hear of the benefits of data. Data can be used to identify trends, make predictions, budget and manage limited resources. What if there were Perfect Access to Perfect Information? Of course that is not realistic. Perfection may be an admirable goal, but it is not attainable. However, there seems no reason not to pursue it nonetheless. If we pursue it, we will undoubtedly make progress towards a better process. 

Since I first wrote about electronic billing, I have had many discussions about its benefits and perceived costs. It became an ancillary topic in the National Conversation on workers' compensation last spring. What if we could do a better job of gathering and using information about injuries? If medical care providers submitted their billing electronically, and accompanied by a digital medical record of the treatment encounter, who would benefit?

If a process were created thoughtfully, it is likely that everyone could enjoy some benefit, although there would undoubtedly also be some measure of cost also. The providers and payers could reduce the costs of paper, envelopes, postage, and more. The amount of time invested on both sides of this equation, creating paper billings and checks, printing and stuffing envelopes, and opening/processing on the other end is immense. 

In order for a medical provider to create a bill for services, data has to be entered into the computer. That data is then printed onto paper, and transmitted across the country on trucks. When it arrives, someone has to open and straighten the document. The same data is then input into another computer, potentially with mistakes. The document then has to be scanned or filed. At some point the paper has to be shredded and recycled, and the process starts anew. It is a resource and labor-intensive process. 

We have seen the electronic filing process benefit litigation. The claims for benefits or petitions or otherwise were prepared in some attorney's office, printed, mailed, opened, straightened and the data re-entered into another computer. In the microcosm of Florida workers' compensation litigation, we have witnessed the benefit of electronic filing. Attorneys and the state have saved millions of dollars in time, paper and postage by creating and then mandating the electronic filing process. 

There has also been a great deal of discussion of the potential for injured workers and their employers to have access to medical information. In the Social Security system, there is such access. If Florida developed a system for electronic submission of medical billing, and medical records, such a database (or data "warehouse") could be easily included. Employees and employers could have timely access to treatment records, recommendations, restrictions, limitations, plans and more. A database that would likewise reduce costs for attorneys, employers, carriers, and workers. 

WorkCompCentral reported that New Jersey joins the electronic billing states in 2016. It is, like many legislative actions, a law that illustrates compromises. It requires most medical NJ providers to submit bills electronically, with an exception for infrequent providers of workers' compensation services, those submitting "fewer than 25 bills per month." This compromise likely reflects the cost of training and equipment that will be required for the process. Allowing the small business/practice an exception makes sense. 

What does the medical provider get from the exchange? The easily identified benefits are listed above. But, this new law also provides a quid pro quo for adopting the modern process. Under the New Jersey law, the electronically submitted billing has to be paid within two months. This makes sense. With the billing submitted electronically, the payers should be able to avoid significant work involved with interpreting that data and the data-entry or processing required for bill adjustment and payment. 

According to an earlier story on WorkCompCentral, New Jersey is only the fourth state to mandate electronic medical billing. It joins an elite community with Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas. They are not the only states with electronic billing, but the only ones that require it. Six more states "have adopted an electronic medical billing framework for their workers' compensation systems:" California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Oregon and Washington. In all, ten states lead the way to an inevitable future.

The Medical Society of New Jersey, sought the exception for small practices submitting less than 25 bills per month. But otherwise was supportive of the change. Its legislative affairs spokesman said that "the world is moving to electronic. We get that." And so, “we want it to move that way in order for claims to be processed more quickly. The concept is great." There are concerns regarding the the involvement of "third parties, clearinghouses," and the potential processing costs to medical providers. The Medical Society says these costs are not inconsequential, and over time can be expected to "add up," as "practices can send in hundreds of claims per day." But there is support nonetheless. 

Despite the concerns and the potential costs, New Jersey legislatively joins an elite four. And while a total of ten states offer the platform, and evolve towards the new normal of electronic billing, Florida waits. The third most populous state in the union behind California (which permits electronic billing) and Texas (which mandates it), Florida waits, prints, and mails. Carriers, open, straighten, scan, file and repeat data entry. Doubtlessly, Florida will allow electronic billing and may require it. The question is when. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Electronic Filing in Florida has Saved Millions

Every year, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims submits a report regarding the state of Florida's adjudication system. This year's report is in the proofing stage and will be published close to November 30, 2016. The following is an excerpt from that report.

Having led the way into the twenty-first century in 2005-06 with deployment of electronic filing (“eFiling,” or “eJCC”), the OJCC has continued to revise and leverage this process. In 2011-12, the OJCC began to enforce the mandatory use of electronic filing by represented parties. In 2011-12 programming was added to afford eFiling access to all users, represented or not. In 2012-13, programming was completed to allow electronic service of pleadings among and between lawyers and insurance carriers. The result is a neatly integrated electronic filing and service system that is exemplary.

In 2015-16, five hundred forty-five thousand six hundred ninety-five (545,695) documents were e-filed with the OJCC. The filing volumes are described in this chart.

Using the parameters described in the 2006-07 OJCC Annual Report, the cumulative end-user savings to date generated by this eFiling system, by the end of fiscal 2015-16, were at least two million nine hundred sixty-nine thousand four hundred seventy-eight dollars ($2,969,478). The total savings to the state is at least four million three hundred twenty-six thousand one hundred thirty-five dollars ($4,326,135). The combination is over seven million dollars in savings, and the total OJCC investment in e-filing to date is just over one million dollars. The eJCC return on investment from eFiling is about 700%. 

Electronic service was added to the eJCC platform in January 2013. This feature allows significant volumes of documents to be served electronically upon opposing counsel and insurance carriers in conjunction with electronic filing. This process change has enabled an additional annual savings to practitioners and carriers in excess of one million dollars due to the ability to serve each other documents electronically. The eService savings, combined with eFiling savings is thus about ten million dollars. This achievement is particularly gratifying in light of issues and complications experienced by other states’ systems that have expended large special fund allocations building and deploying electronic filing.

According to Workcompcentral.com, various states have spent far more developing their case management and litigation platforms. Notably, their systems are for all workers’ compensation claims in their respective states, while the OJCC system is for litigated claims only. Pennsylvania is reported to have spent $45.1 million initially, and contracted for three years of support and maintenance at $5.1 million per year. California has reportedly spent $61 million to deploy their case management and electronic filing platform.

The Office of Judges of Compensation Claims’ success with eFiling and eService has been achieved without any extraordinary budget allocations. The aggregate total programming cost to date barely exceeds one million dollars

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Not-so-Quiet Thanksgiving 2016

I had planned to write a reflective piece this quiet morning of Thanksgiving 2016. But the quiet was interrupted by two significant Wednesday court rulings in the world of workers' compensation. Knowing that most of the marketplace will be focused primarily upon food and festivity for the rest of the day, I nonetheless provide the following. It is hoped that in coming days readers will return from their fine feasts and a long relaxing weekend of college football rivalry, ready to consider the implications of two cases separated by hundreds of miles. 

Last spring, Kentucky Abolished and Recreated its Nominating Commission for workers' compensation judges. The process resulted in the end of various commissioner's terms on the panel, and the recently elected Governor appointed all of the members of the newly created Commission. That action, and legal challenges to it, came at a difficult time for Kentucky, because there were vacant judicial positions and their Commission, like Florida's, is critical to the process of filling vacancies. 

Following the Kentucky Governor's decision, a lawsuit was filed. The challenge was essentially about Gubernatorial authority, with the challengers asking the courts to prevent the operation of the new commission. The challengers felt that the process used, if deemed appropriate, effectively divested sitting commissioners of their authority, conveyed through prior appointment. There was also mention of separation of powers. 

As a result, for much of the last 6 months, the sitting Kentucky Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) have been doing their best to maintain docket control and render timely decisions. Kentucky law allows up to 19 ALJs. There are currently 12 serving, and there has been a recent history of 18 serving. There has thus been reference in the news to "6 vacant positions." The math on this is fairly straightforward, 6 vacancies from a team of 18 is one-third. And anyone managing a business can attest to the challenges of a short-staffed organization. 

The Glasgow Daily Times reported yesterday Shepherd says Bevin can appoint workers' comp judges. Kentucky Judge Shepherd ruled that the Governor "can now go ahead and appoint workers’ compensation judges nominated by members of a new commission he appointed." In so ruling, the Circuit Judge "amended an earlier temporary injunction to allow Bevin’s newly appointed members of the commission along with one holdover from the original commission to send the governor nominations for the vacancies."

Kentuckians will see progress from this decision. Certainly, there is the matter of perspective. Some may see it as positive progress and others as negative, but it is movement nonetheless. It will allow the new Commission to conduct interviews and propose candidates for appointment. Unlike Florida, in Kentucky the Commission nominates, the Governor appoints, and then the Senate has to confirm. That last step is absent from the Florida process. 

The Kentucky Governor praised the decision, saying in a statement that "Kentuckians were really beginning to feel the pain of not being able to move forward with their workers' comp claims.” His office lamented that the vacancies had existed "for far too long.” It is now possible that the current vacancies, and perhaps some that will soon occur due to the expiration of various judge's commissions or retirements, can be filled. 

Judge Shepherd's decision is not closure to the litigation however. As the Times reports, this "order, however, does not rule on the merits of the challenge." Instead, the judge concluded that "in light of the inability to reach a compromise he believes it in the public interest to allow the governors’ appointees to meet and nominate judges for the vacancies." Some might perhaps characterize that a decision of expedience. But, the Judge perceived sufficient checks and balances in the necessity of Senate confirmation, and concluded he there was no “useful purpose in delaying the submission of (nominees’) names to the Governor in these circumstances.” 

The Times concluded that it is likely the ultimate decision regarding executive action dissolving one Commission and creating another will be up to an appellate court. But, it appears that efforts will soon be underway for appointment and confirmation of 6 new Kentucky ALJs, and the relief in workload for the current 12 judges.

In Florida, the news on Thanksgiving eve was also from a Circuit Judge, this one in Tallahassee. The News Service of Florida reported late Wednesday that a Judge Halts Workers Comp Rate Hike over Sunshine Issues. The announcement of this ruling came late in the business day, with the News Service article dateline of 11:00 p.m. The rate process litigation has been ongoing for several months, and was directed at the decision-making process for Florida workers' compensation insurance rates. A significant rate increase was slated to take effect December 1, 2016 (next week). The judge's ruling Wednesday will delay or perhaps prevent that increase. 

The Florida Circuit Judge concluded that "the National Council on Compensation Insurance --- the organization that files rate proposals for the industry --- did not comply with legal requirements about holding public meetings during its deliberations on the" proposed insurance rate increase. The Judge cited the occurrence of "improper closed-door meetings with staff members of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation" in reaching her conclusion that the process was not consistent with Florida law regarding open meetings and public discourse. 

The Judge said that "clear and convincing evidence demonstrated that NCCI and the OIR (Office of Insurance Regulation) held a series of secret meetings in the shade … and not in the Sunshine as required, meetings at which decision maker NCCI (through its staff) discussed and decided the substance of the rate increases NCCI proposed." The Judge concluded that these meetings "had the effect of shutting the public out of meaningful participation in the rate making process."

As in the Kentucky ruling, the Circuit Judge's decision may not be the conclusion of the issue. The "NCCI released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying it was 'very disappointed' in the ruling and vowing to challenge it." It's position is that the process engaged was in compliance with the law, and it says "NCCI plans to appeal the trial court's decision." Appellate process is rarely as rapid as any party hopes. Review by the District Courts can take months, and recent workers' compensation decisions by The Florida Supreme Court required significant time also. 

The increase in workers' compensation rates was nominally attributed to three factors: the Florida Supreme Court decisions in Castellanos v. Next Door Company and Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, and the regulatory revisions to the workers' compensation provider fee schedule earlier in 2016. It has been suggested that potential impacts of Westphal on temporary partial disability and the First District decision in Miles v. City of Edgewater could likewise have market effects in future, but these were not discussed significantly in the rate filing process. The NCCI recommended an overall rate increase of close to 20%, and the OIR had approved a rate increase of 14.5, which was to be effective December 1, 2016. 

The News Service of Florida posits that "the ruling could add fuel to an expected battle about the workers' compensation insurance system during the 2017 legislative session." It notes that injured worker attorneys and the insurance industry are at odds regarding whether there is a need for increased insurance rates on employers. It is a subject that has been discussed much in the last 6 months, and which is likely to receive further discussion. 

There has also been a history of contention and debate regarding a variety of Florida workers' compensation issues, benefits, reforms, etc. Over the last year, I have heard many opinions expressed about how and if the Florida Legislature might amend workers' compensation in 2017. What has been consistent in these comments has been the inconsistency of belief, conjecture and prediction. 

Asked by the press for comment late Wednesday, I made the following points. 

(1) The market is seemingly stalled at this moment. Will this decision face appellate review? If so, then it could be a year before further court action, and if the matter reaches the Supreme Court, the delay for final determination  could be longer. 

(2) Will there be some process engaged in the meantime to consider rates? The NCCI conclusion was that a rate increase is needed to cover projected costs. The Insurance Commissioner agreed. If that conclusion is accurate, that rate increase is needed, and there will seemingly be inevitable delay now in implementation, what will that mean to the insurance entities that face liability for workers' compensation benefits? 

(3) If carriers view the potential liability as too significant, it is possible that some may reduce exposure by limiting their Florida portfolio of risk. There have been periods in the past when that occurred. 

(4) If there is exposure limitation, will it affect certain industries or professions because of existing perceptions of their risk? 

(5) Will impact, if any, be equal on carriers large and small, employers large and small, or is it possible that some market segments could be affected differently? 

(6) If an increase is in fact needed, and it is delayed, will that delay impact the ultimate extent of rate change? 

I concluded with the frank admission that I am certain that there are many perspectives on these questions. It is also very likely that I am simply not comprehending all of the potential arguments or impacts. But, the Circuit judge's decision is the law at least until some further ruling by a court. In light of the Judge's conclusions, as published and without having the opportunity to read the actual order, I find myself with more questions than answers.

Tune in next year for a hopefully more introspective and reflective piece on the quiet morning of Thanksgiving 2017. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

New Case Volumes Grew in 2016

Every year, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims submits a report regarding the state of Florida's adjudication system. This year's report is in the proofing stage and will be published close to November 30, 2016. The following is an excerpt from that report.

The volume of “new cases filed” has been tabulated only since the OJCC was transferred to the DOAH in 2001. The term “new cases filed” refers to the volume of PFBs filed, which represent the first PFB in the history of that particular accident by that particular injured worker. 

Workers’ compensation cases often involve the litigation of multiple, serial PFBs over the course of years. The rate at which “new cases” are filed is indicative of the rate at which cases are entering the OJCC litigation process, and is not affected by the serial nature inherent to workers’ compensation generally, and thus of PFB filing.

Generally speaking, this is the inverse of the volume of settlements approved in a year, which is similarly statistically indicative of the trend rate at which cases are leaving the OJCC litigation process. Although cases can be resolved without settlement, those that are not settled may have some potential to return to the litigation process regarding some future additional claims or issues. The “new case” measure may arguably be a more accurate indicator than PFB filing volume of the effect of legislative changes to the substantive benefits provided to Florida employees through chapter 440, Florida Statutes.

However, a “new case” filed in 2015-16 could involve an accident that year, or could involve an accident that occurred years prior. It is possible that an injured worker might receive all benefits due, without any need for litigation, for many years following a work accident. Such a case may enter litigation after many years of administrative delivery of some benefits. The OJCC has not attempted to delineate the age of accidents that enter the OJCC system as “new cases” each year.
The volume of “new cases” filed steadily declined after 2003 statutory amendments. The rate of decline in “new cases” filing was less than the rate of PFB decline in almost every fiscal year since 2003. An exception was 2009-10, when “new case” filing decreased over ten percent (10%) compared to an overall PFB filing decrease of eight percent (8%). In 2013-14 and 2014-15 “new case” filings increased slightly. That trend continued in 2015-16, and the rate of increase may be strengthening. The following graph depicts the declining OJCC “new case” filings (red), and the PFB filings (blue).

These figures support that “new cases” and PFB filings each increased significantly between 2001-02 and 2002-03. Notably, in 2004-05 (107,319), two years after the 2002-03 volume “spike” (151,021), PFB volumes returned to a level reasonably consistent with 2001-02 (115,985). The “new cases” volume similarly “spiked” markedly in 2002-03 (56,869), but returned to pre-2002-03 levels only five years later, in 2008-09 (33,995).

This comparison supports that overall PFB filing volume has demonstrated more elasticity than the “new cases” volume. The coincident increase in both PFB and “new case” volumes in 2013-14 had not occurred since 2002-03. It was suggested in the 2014-15 Annual Report that a demonstrated second year of increased volume could be significant. It is now suggested that the third year of increase in 2015-16 substantiates an upward trend, of as yet unknown extent or cause.

The volume of “new cases” filed may also be expressed as a percentage of the gross volume of petitions for benefits (PFB) filed during the same time period. This compares the relationship of each annual “new cases” volume to the corresponding annual overall PFB filing volume. This comparison demonstrates that the percentage of all PFBs that were “new cases filed” remained fairly consistent after the 2003 reforms; in fiscal 2003-04 (34.5%) and 2004-05 (35.9%). As overall PFB volumes have decreased significantly, and “new case” volumes decreased more moderately, the percentage of “new cases” has remained above 40% since 2005-06, and the overall trend has been upward, peaking in 2014-15, and most recently trending down.

In summary, the available data supports several conclusions. First, the overall PFB volume stabilized in 2008-09, and returned to a measured and consistent decline thereafter. In 2013-14 PFB volume began to increase, and that trend has continued over the last three years. The volume of “new cases filed” has decreased at a much slower rate generally, punctuated by a marked decrease in 2009-10 (10.21%) and a marked increase in 2013-14 (2.97%).  The trend for “new cases” is likewise now trending upward for the last three years. However, the PFB volume is still remarkably lower than historically experienced. The 2015-16 volume is similar to 2009-10, but remains much lower than in the years 2001 through 2008-09. 

Though the percentage of “new cases” has declined to 46.3% in 2015-16 (as the rate of increase in overall PFB volume has strengthened), and is similar to percentages in 2008-09 and 2010-11, it remains significantly higher than in the first years of the century. This data does not support that constraints on the litigation process, that is the 2003 statutory amendments, are decreasing the litigation of issues in claims occurring after those revisions. The data appears to support the contrary, that litigation involving new claims remains reasonably consistent, while litigation on previously filed claims has decreased over time.

The intuitive conclusion from this analysis might focus on attorneys’ fee payments, as amended in 2003. One might conclude that there is a perception that litigation early in a claim was more lucrative than subsequent litigation. Such a perception might be demonstrated by a willingness to file new cases, but reluctance to litigate arguably minor issues thereafter due to fee compression. It is possible that the potential volume of future benefits is sufficient, early in a claim, to accommodate litigation. 

This may be more supported in claims that are completely denied, or in which there are vast disparities in perceptions of the degree of future medical care required, leading to denial of benefits with significant monetary value and thus significant associated fee issues under the statutory formula reiterated in the 2009 legislative session. If this contention holds, Florida might expect to see continuing increases in PFB filing volume with the judicially created attorney fee changes.
In the past fee statute iterations, hourly fees were common. Thus, there was less compression on fee entitlement in subsequent litigation of comparatively minor medical issues. With hourly fees, litigation was economically viable on moderate to low monetary value benefits regardless of the stage of that claim in which such benefits were sought. The strict percentage fee calculation in place since 2009 may have influenced market behavior, and their elimination may likewise affect behavior and therefore volumes.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Florida Petition Volumes Grew in 2016

Every year, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims submits a report regarding the state of Florida's adjudication system. This year's report is in the proofing stage and will be published close to November 30, 2016. The following is an excerpt from that report.

The Florida Legislature enacted significant amendments to the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law in 1994 and again in 2003. After the 1994 reforms, PFB filing volume consistently increased each year. Just prior to the 2003 reforms, annual PFB filings peaked at 151,021. The progressive increase in PFB filings between 1994 and 2003 belies the efficacy of the 1994 reforms’ intent to decrease litigation. 

Immediately following the 2003 reforms, the PFB filing volume decreased at a consistent annual rate of approximately fifteen percent (15.21% to 15.9%) over each of the next three years, and then continued to decline with reasonable consistency through fiscal 2013, with the sole exception of a slight increase in 2008-09. PFB filing volume increased just over two percent in 2013-14 and another 1% increase in 2014-15, followed by a 12% increase in 2015-16. The PFB volume in 2015-16 was about 76% higher than the 38,254 filed in 1993 before that “sweeping reform” was passed.

One component of the 2003 reforms was an amendment to section 440.34, Florida Statutes, which addresses the payment of attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases. The interpretation of that statutory change was litigated extensively, and multiple decisions of the Florida First District Court of Appeal (DCA) interpreted section 440.34, Florida Statutes (2003) as limiting fees to a “percentage of recovery” fee. 

Under those DCA interpretations of section 440.34, hourly attorneys’ fees were forbidden in most cases. In October 2008, the Florida Supreme Court decided Murray v. Mariner Health, 994 So.2d 1051 (Fla. 2008). The Supreme Court’s interpretation of section 440.34 differed from the DCA decisions, and effectively restored entitlement to hourly attorneys’ fees for cases with a date of accident after 2003. It is possible the marginal increase (1.6%) in 2008-09 was related to the Murray decision.

In the spring of 2009, the Florida Legislature amended section 440.34 to again forbid hourly fees. Therefore, the Court’s Murray decision affects cases between October 1, 2003, and July 1, 2009. The mandatory fee schedule was thus in effect again beginning July 1, 2009. This was challenged as unconstitutional, and Castellanos v. Next Door Company, 192 So.3d 431 (Fla. 2016) was decided in 2016. This decision concluded several key points. 

First, that attorneys’ fees are the most important element of the Florida workers’ compensation law. The Florida Supreme Court in Castellanos noted “that the right of a claimant to obtain a reasonable attorneys’ fee has been a critical feature of the workers’ compensation law.” The Court went further, however, concluding that “a reasonable attorneys’ fee has always been the linchpin to the constitutionality of the workers’ compensation law.” Castellanos, at 435. Not “a” linchpin, but “the” linchpin. 

The common dictionary definition of “linchpin” is “the most important part of a complex situation or system.” Claimant attorney fees, according to the Florida Supreme Court, is the most important part of the Florida workers’ compensation system. Second, that limitations on fees are unconstitutional. And, that access to counsel is a critical element of the workers’ compensation system.

It is, again, possible that perceptions of the outcome of a case, Castellanos in this instance, is affecting PFB filing volumes currently. Some suggest instead that the Florida economy is rebounding from the Great Recession and that increased Florida employment overall is driving increased injury volumes and therefore injury litigation. The OJCC has no foundation to determine what if any particular force is driving the current increase. 

Florida workers’ compensation premiums decreased significantly after the 2003 reforms. The cumulative premium decrease through fiscal year 2008-09 was approximately 58%. Interestingly, in that same time period, PFB filings had decreased approximately fifty-two percent (51.85%), which might be interpreted as a close correlation. Any perceived correlation between litigation filing rates and insurance rates is difficult to defend however. 

Despite consistently decreasing PFB filing rates between 2009-10 and 2012-13, workers’ compensation rates increased annually during that period. Notably, the rates changes are approved annually in the fall of each year. The filing rates reported demonstrate PFB volumes prior to each described premium change. The effect, if any, of such PFBs might not become apparent for months or even years after filing. Thus, while the rate of filing is interesting, it is in fact the subsequent affect of filing, that is, whether injured workers prevail or not, that could actually affect premium.

The following graph represents PFB filing since 1992-93. The 1994 reforms were intended to curtail litigation. Despite that intention, the PFB filings increased markedly thereafter.

The OJCC was staffed by 31 judges in 1993. Following the 2012 budget/position reductions, the OJCC is again staffed by 31 judges. While the judicial workload has decreased from the demands of the exceptional filings in recent years, it has not yet returned to the baseline of 1994. The 2014-15 filings (60,021) remain about 57% higher than in 1993-94 (38,254). And, the filing trend is upward at this time. In coming months, that trend may moderate or become more profound, and should be monitored carefully. 

The figures for periods prior to 2001 (the transfer of the OJCC from the DLES to the DOAH) are based upon data previously published by the DLES. The reliability of these statistics can no longer be independently verified.  Some question as to the validity of these figures is raised by the fact that the Petition for Benefits (PFB) process was not added to chapter 440, Florida Statutes, until the 1994 statutory amendments, and that the DLES figures nonetheless reflect “PFB” filing prior to that time. 

This could be indicative of an actual flaw in the data, or the figures prior to 1994 may represent the filing of “Claims for Benefits.” Prior to the PFB process, “claims” were filed to put an E/C on notice of a dispute, but the jurisdiction of the OJCC was not invoked until a separate pleading, an “Application for Hearing,” was filed. The current statutes’ PFB is therefore effectively a combination of the prior “Claim” and “Application.” Because of this distinction, it may or may not be appropriate to compare “Claim” or “Application for Hearing” filing to PFB filing. 

Presuming the accuracy of the DLES volumes, the PFB filing rate in 2012-13 was the lowest in eighteen years, since 1995-96. And, since that time the trend has indicated increased filings. Preliminary data for fiscal 2017 indicates the potential of significantly increased petition filings, consistent with the demonstrated trend. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Florida Attorney Fees 2016

Every year, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims submits a report regarding the state of Florida's adjudication system. This year's report is in the proofing stage and will be published close to November 30, 2016. The following is an excerpt from that report.

Attorneys' fees increased in Florida in fiscal 2016 (July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016). The increase has been described as modest, but an increase nonetheless. 

The OJCC is required by law to approve all attorney fees paid by or on behalf of an injured worker. §440.34. Fla. Stat. There is no such specific requirement for the approval of fees paid by employer/carriers for their defense counsel representation. Despite the absence of such specific requirement for defense fee approval, the broad language of section 440.105(3)(b), Florida Statutes arguably could require OJCC approval of defense attorneys’ fees. 

However, this statutory authority has historically not been interpreted to require approval of defense attorneys’ fees. There have been those who question this interpretation. With recent rulings regarding section 440.105, the authority of that statute may be further questioned. 

The OJCC has required insurance carriers to report their respective total annual expenditures for aggregate defense fees. Because these defense fee figures are reported in the aggregate, it is impossible to discern whether cost reimbursement to E/C attorneys has been included in the figures reported by the various carriers. Furthermore, this information regarding defense fees expended during the fiscal year, does not provide any edification regarding the respective dates of accident involved in the cases for which those fees were paid during that fiscal year. In short, the defense fee data is less specific than the claimant fee data.

The OJCC gathers claimant attorneys’ fee data through a computer program (part of the system that includes the JCC Application database, electronic filing, and Internet publication of data) that simultaneously uploads fee approval orders to the Internet case docket and captures the data regarding claimant fee and cost amounts. The district staff is responsible for the input of the fee and cost amount data for each individual fee approval order entered, resulting in more detailed data. 

The annual aggregates resulting from this data collection are as follows:

During 2015-16, a total of three hundred seventy-eight million, five hundred seventy-three thousand nine hundred two dollars ($378,573,902) was expended on combined claimant attorneys’ fees and defense attorneys’ fees (and perhaps defense “costs”) in the Florida worker’s compensation system. This represents a small overall increase, about 2%, from the 2014-15 aggregate fee total of three hundred seventy million, seven hundred seventy-two thousand seven hundred eighty-three dollars ($370,772,783). 

The 2015-16 aggregate fee total is also very similar to the 2013-14 aggregate total of three hundred seventy-nine million two hundred twenty-two thousand three hundred thirty seven dollars ($379,222,337). Thus, both claimant and defense fees decreased in 2014-15, more significantly on the claimant side; both figures increased in 2015-16, more significantly on the defense side. And the net effect is a 2015-16 aggregated very similar to that of two years ago.

The 2012-13 OJCC Annual Report noted that the decrease in claimant fees documented there was the most modest decrease in the eleven years since the 2003 legislative reforms. The 2013-14 decrease of over six and one-half percent was more notable, and was followed in 2014-15 by an additional four percent decrease. So, the 2015-16 figures increasing could demonstrate an anomaly. But in light of Castellanos, it is more likely an indicator of a trend change to increasing fees. 

The aggregate attorneys’ fees in Florida workers’ compensation are detailed in this chart. This chart illustrates the total fees for both claimant and defense, and provides the percentage that each make of the whole. This delineation was close to 50/50 in the early years of the comparison, 2002-03, but as aggregate claimant fees have decreased and employer/carrier fees first increased markedly and then decreased at more moderate pace, a disparity between claimant and defense fees has developed and been somewhat consistent. Since 2009-10, the defense portion has exceeded 60%. In 2015-16 the defense share was 63.95%, the highest since the 2003 statutory reforms. 

In the 2012 annual report, this Office first noted the inflation effect. Considering inflation over the last decade, this difference is more pronounced. According to the U.S. Inflation Calculator, the 2002-03 aggregate ($427,359,212), in 2015 dollars, adjusted for inflation, would have been $560,741,738. This is $182,167,836 more than the 2015-16 aggregate of $378,573,902. Adjusted for inflation in 2016 dollars, aggregate attorneys’ fees in Florida workers’ compensation have decreased almost two hundred million dollars in the last fourteen years. 

In sum, over the eleven year period between 2002-03 and 2014-15, overall claimant fees decreased about thirty-five percent (35.36%). The aggregate defense fees in 2015-16 ($242,112,498) are higher than the aggregate defense fees in 2003-04 ($226,585,434). The aggregate defense fees of $216,698,474 in 2002-03 adjusted for inflation would be equal to $284,331,952 in 2016 dollars, compared to the actual figure of $242,112,498, a difference of about $42 million. The 2002-03 claimant fees of $210,660,738 would be equivalent to $276,409,786 in 2016 dollars, compared to the actual figure of $136,461,404. Claimants’ fees in 2015-16, in real dollars, are more than 50% lower than in 2002-03. 

The claimant attorneys’ fee aggregate for 2014-15 marked the 11th consecutive decrease in claimant fees, though the 2015-16 figures demonstrate a minimal increase in claimant fees. A comparison of the last fourteen fiscal years of claimant and defense attorneys’ fees and the overall rates of change are set forth in this table. 

It is unclear whether any portion of the increased defense fees in this chart (in the period 2004-05 through 2009-10) are attributable solely to more effective data collection and carrier compliance following the implementation of the Internet-based defense fee reporting system/process in 2003. It is also notable that some portion of overall defense fees reported, may relate to cases in which no claimant fees were paid, such as, charges for preparation and approval of pro se settlement documents or instances in which the E/C sought and paid for legal advice that ultimately did not result in the filing of any workers’ compensation dispute. 

The Department of Labor and Employment Security (“DLES”) compiled data regarding the attorneys’ fees paid to claimants’ counsel for a number of years. In the DLES 2001 Dispute Resolution Report, fees for calendar years 1988 through 2000 were reported. These figures are helpful for broad comparisons with current fees and trends. However, it is important to note that the DLES figures may be for calendar years, not fiscal years. 

It is further instructive to note that the DLES figures for attorneys’ fees paid for claimants’ counsel likely include costs, as the ability to easily differentiate fees from costs did not exist until the OJCC database was deployed in 2002. The figures compiled and reported by the OJCC, since October 2001, do not include claimant costs. With those two caveats, the following graph represents the claimant fees (perhaps fees plus costs) paid from 1988 through 2000 and the claimant fees paid from fiscal 2002-03 through 2015-16. The level of aggregate claimants’ attorneys’ fees in 2015-16 remains close to the lowest it has been since 1991.

This may be significant in light of the history of Florida workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation was enacted in Florida in 1935. There have been statutory modifications thereafter. A major revision of the law was passed in 1979, which has been referred to as the “shift to wage loss.” In a 1994 legislative special session, there was a “retreat to an impairment-based system.” As discussed above, the effect of the 1994 legislation was a marked period of growth in Petition for Benefits filings. 

Contrary to the Legislature’s intent of decreasing litigation in 1994, litigation increased. The data above supports that aggregate fees also increased after 1994 but that the increase did not match that of petition filing. This may be explained by the election of claimant’s counsel not to file fee claims after the award of benefits in the past. It is possible a significant volume of such fee issues remain outstanding, including entitlement and/or amount. These may remain outstanding for determination, and thereafter payment, for years or decades.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kids' Chance, an Organization, a Movement

November can be a busy and stressful month. Each year, I find myself focused almost singularly upon the preparation, checking, editing and publication of the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims Annual Report. Through long days and nights, my focus on that responsibility significantly eclipses the opportunity to pay attention to much else. This blog will provides some excerpts of that report in coming days. 

But, November is a month which brings various, broader, thoughts to Americans. Most recently, we paused November 11 to recognize the many veterans for whose service and sacrifice we are all endebted beyond means to repay. Soon, there will be Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday shopping season, and those special Friday and Cyber-Monday events. And, some decades ago, our leaders decided this would be the best month in which to hold elections. November is simply a busy and eventful month.

Kids' Chance adopted November for Kids' Chance Awareness Week. Kids' Chance is a scholarship organization that is focused on providing educational assistance and opportunities for the dependents of workers' catastrophically injured on-the-job. The organization has been around since 1988, almost 30 years. It was founded in Georgia, and has since become a national phenomenon with affiliated charitable organizations in 36 states. 

I spoke at the AmComp Annual Meeting this fall. AmComp is focused on providing an intense and broad workers' compensation education for industry professionals. At the outset of their meeting last month, representatives of the local Kids' Chance were afforded a few minutes to discuss their efforts and success. 

They said Kids' Chance of New York (KCNY) was then about a year old. These leaders detailed how they organized and delivered scholarships in their first year of existence. The AmComp audience was visibly touched when a letter from one of the scholarship recipients was read aloud, describing enthusiasm for study and scholarship. There is something about young people driving for success and their future that gets to us all. Maybe it is the chance to remember a time when our own futures seemed to stretch before us, limitless?

I found the KCNY progress interesting. Kids Chance of Florida is likewise a young organization. In fact, it was founded at a meeting in Tampa, Florida on December 7, 2015. Kids' Chance of Florida likewise surpassed all expectations. In August 2016 Kids' Chance of Florida was honored to take center stage at the Workers' Compensation Institute (WCI) in Orlando and announce the presentation of four scholarships for young Floridians. 

From across the country, state by state, stories of student inspiration and success could be recited. Volunteers of various professional affiliations could be named and described, their efforts and dedication showcased. But, I have learned quickly that many of those volunteers eschew attention and recognition. They simply have no interest in publicity or notariety. They have a singular interest instead, focused on facilitating opportunities for worthy young people whose lives have accidentally become intertwined with the nation's workers' compensation systems. 

I have been privileged to hear a few of those students' stories. These young people are inspirational and their focus is heartwarming. Theirs are stories of academic success and social involvement, of athletic endeavors and community service. Those stories include elements of tragedy, dispair, perserverance, hope, and triumph that are touching, inspirational and affirming. 

Kids' Chance is postively touching young lives in 36 states. And, while that is certainly worthy of recognition and appreciation, it is as important that we recognize that new affilates are even now in the formation and incorporation process. As the Kids' Chance of New York officials presented at AmComp, Paul Sighinolfi, of Maine, leaned over and confided to me that Maine will soon add the 37th or 38th state affiliate. So, Maine is coming soon, and they are not alone. 

One of the other things of which November reminds me is the great Thanksgiving Day Massacre memorialized by Arlo Guthrie in 1967. It is a long (this song runs more than 20 minutes) narrative regarding an embellished rendition of the author's Thanksgiving 1965. It contains a fair few jabs at the establishment and politics of the day. Whatever ones' view of the Vietnam War, as the song approaches its 50th anniversary, it remains interesting and poignant. It involves a description of Arlo speaking to a psychiatrist, and essentially telling the doctor what Arlo thinks he wants to hear. 

Near the conclusion, Arlo suggests that his song could be more than a listening experience. He notes that others might find themselves engaged with the status quo or establishment at some point in their lives. He suggests that if you do, you should look that "shrink" right in the eye and sing "you can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant" (the refrain of the song), and then just "walk out." Arlo continues, regarding the effect that such a serenade might bring (all in italics are direct quote) suggesting: 

if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. 

And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization. 

And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. 

And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

As I sit this morning thinking of our upcoming Thanksgiving 2016, Kids' Chance Awareness Week, and our world, I am drawn back to Arlo's mindset and lyrics. While some of his lyrics are dated, they may overall nonetheless convey a sentiment that is worthy. In 1988 one person decided that he could make a difference in the lives of worthy students affected by workplace injuries. Maybe that was just an anomaly. But then there were two, and then there were three. Then there were two states, and then three, four, five states. It had become an "organization."

Can you imagine if there were fifty states in the Kids' Chance choir? Can you imagine fifty states in concert with the harmony of a great purpose? As Arlo suggests, when that day comes, "friends they may think it's a movement." I would say at 36 states it is already a movement, but "friends," there is just no reason that these educational opportunities cannot exist in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and beyond. 

The Kids' Chance website has a map documenting the location of affilate organizations. It seems likely that in the forseable future, there will be Kids' Chance affilates in every state and territory. Kids' Chance awareness week is November 14-18, 2016. The week has been recognized by the White House, and state governments alike. 

Congratulations Kids' Chance! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Collecting Child Support at the OJCC

Every year, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims submits a report regarding the state of Florida's adjudication system. This year's report is in the proofing stage and will be published close to November 30, 2016. The following is an excerpt from that report.

An illustration of the cost-effectiveness of the OJCC is the volume of child support arrearages collected through the judges’ efforts. The Judges of Compensation Claims are statutorily required to ensure that the rights of child support recipients are considered when support payers settle their workers’ compensation case. Each judge devotes considerable time and effort to the investigation and verification of child support arrearages when cases are settled. The significant amounts of child support collected through these efforts for the last fourteen (14) fiscal years are represented in this table, which total over $150 million ($151,305,553). 

When the judges were given the responsibility for recovering these arrearages, no staff or budget was added to the OJCC to accomplish this task. 

The volume of child support arrearages collected is particularly interesting when considered in light of the overall OJCC budget discussed below. Over the last fourteen (14) fiscal years, the OJCC has collected an average of 63% of its overall budget in past-due child support to the benefit and advantage of support recipients throughout Florida. 

The comparison of child support recovery (red) and the OJCC overall budget (blue) is illustrated in this graph (in millions).

In 2012-13, the OJCC undertook the duties associated with reporting arrearage information to parties on behalf of the Department of Revenue (DOR). In 2013-14 the OJCC integrated the process of reporting Circuit Clerks’ arrearage information. This combination eliminated redundancy and waste across the process for all Florida workers’ compensation litigants. Litigants in Florida’s workers’ compensation adjudication system now get all of their required child support arrearage information from the OJCC instead of DOR and the Circuit Clerks. These most recent child support services on behalf of support recipients have likewise been delivered without any additional staff or funding for the OJCC operations.

Child support collections, and the efficiency of the OJCC system therefor is a source of pride for the judges, mediators and staff of this Office. It illustrates another manner in which this agency is effectively serving the people of Florida. 

In a broader sense, the OJCC is an efficient litigation system. The OJCC budget, divided by the number of petitions for benefits (PFB) closed, reflects that the overall cost per PFB closed fluctuated in recent years, due in large part to the significant fluctuation in PFB closure rates. These figures demonstrate relevance when considered in comparison to filing fees in Florida’s Circuit Courts, which are as high as $400. The OJCC is demonstrably more efficient financially, with a per-petition cost well below the Circuit Court filing fees. Additionally, in the majority of instances, the OJCC cost is inclusive of mediation services, which generally are an additional cost to the parties in other civil litigation. Over the last fourteen fiscal years, the average cost per petition closed was $231.00, just above half the comparable Circuit Court filing fee. 

The fluctuations of “per PFB” costs is also attributable to the minimal growth in the OJCC annual budget through 2008, followed by five consecutive budget reductions between 2009 and 2013. The OJCC budget has seen minimal growth, periodic reductions, and has not maintained pace overall with inflation. The OJCC today is operating on a budget similar to 2005-06. If the 2002-03 budget were to be adjusted for inflation alone, the 2016 budget of the OJCC would have been $21,679,850 instead of $17,225,245, a difference of $4,454,605, or just over 26%.

Florida’s population has also grown markedly in the last twenty years. However, the number of judges has remained virtually static over the same period. These facts illustrate that the OJCC has been very effective at wisely managing the resources provided. 

Petition for Benefit (PFB) closure rates have stabilized and closely follow the current filing rates. There is every reason to believe that trend will continue. A minimal volume of overdue PFB inventory may remain unaddressed in this litigation system, which appears from available data, to be in equilibrium. The resulting cost per PFB closed is therefore likely to increase in coming years if PFB filing volumes decrease. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Universal Income - A Reality Coming?

Technology is a recurring theme. My thoughts return periodically to how technology is changing our world and what effects it will have on us. As the workers' compensation world considers its future, there is merit in considering the broader context of the future of work itself. Certainly, there are a number of challenges for workers' compensation, but focus must also remain on the bigger picture. 

In 2015, I penned How will Attorneys (or any of us) Adapt. It raises some potential impacts of the technology revolution. How may jobs be lost as technology and robotics change the manufacture of products? Beyond this, however, are questions of how increased safety and efficiency from the technology revolution may decrease the need for a vast variety of other professionals and services. 

I personally began to think about these implications at the 2015 NCCI Annual Issues Symposium. One of the issues raised by Salim Ismail (Salim Ismail and a Life-Changing Seminar in Orlando) was income. We have all become accustomed to going to work, earning a paycheck, supporting ourselves, and saving for retirement. Working has become a part of what humans are (at any social introduction a usual question is "what do you do"). The paradigm has shifted over time, from agriculture to manufacturing to service, but the life element of work has remained. 

Salim Ismail raised the issue of Switzerland's debate about government income support. That discussion centered on the government providing income payments to its citizens, a "universal income." Ismail raised the issue as a possible effect of technology. How, he questioned, will people support themselves if the age of technology has the predicted effects, diminishing or even eliminating the working world as we know it?

The subject was again raised by another technologist recently. In an article on Gizmodo (citing comments to CNBC) "Spacentrepreneur Elon Musk" discussed the impacts of technology and automation. His conclusion, "we’ll eventually need a basic universal income because of automation.” That is, he believes that there will be either no work or insufficient work to employ the world's population, and governments will have to distribute income (to allow us all to consume the products produced by the autobots). 

At the end of the analysis, people will have to have mediums of exchange and value, even if they no longer work. We will still have to obtain from each other the goods and services which we cannot produce ourselves. Even if legal advice is dispensed by an artificial intelligence autobot, that legal advice will not come free. Even if the truck delivering goods to our neighborhood store is driver-less, the entity that owns the truck will still be compensated for that delivery. While the specifics of various costs of bringing goods and services to market for us may change, costs nonetheless will remain. 

So, while Mr. Musk sees a future in which humans have significant free time, time to do "more interesting things," there will have to remain mediums of exchange. He contends that this will remain currency and for people to engage in the exchange of goods, the only solution is "universal basic income." That is, government will have to provide payments to vast populations of people, in exchange for nothing, but simply because they exist. This is an interesting concept and worthy of some examination. 

It is important as a foundation to consider that governments may not have any money. Certainly, governments print or mint money, and regulate it. But they may lack funds in the sense of possessing value or wealth. There are a variety of governmental forms in the world. For the purpose of this analysis, I limit discussion to two. 

In a capitalist or market system, the means of production are privately held. Each business works towards its own goals, in a competitive marketplace of products and ideas. There is a competition for consumers. Through various economic, intellectual and emotional variables, we will each decide which producer (and retailer) to patronize. We all make decisions about which supermarket to visit, which television to purchase, etc. 

Communism is an alternate form, also referred to as a "command system." In communism, the means of production, distribution, and the input resources belong to the government. Communism seeks to eliminate classes within society, ultimately leveling the field. The effects of communism have historically been seen in various sub-forms around the globe. In a communist form, the government could obtain wealth (cash) because its state-owned industries produce, distribute and retail goods and services that present value to consumers. Those consumers spend their resources (cash) to purchase, thus placing resources in the hands of the government. 

In the capitalist form, those resources (cash) pass instead to the private business owner. For example, the owner of a retail facility, who in turn pays the manufacturer, the processors, transporters, etc., of the offered product. In a capitalist system, government obtains its resources through taxation rather than ownership. Each time funds change hands in this path to the consumer there is a government confiscation of some percentage, which escheats to the government, taxes. 

This will perhaps make more sense with a micro example. A landowner elects to grow crops on her land. She hires people to plant seeds, cultivate, weed, and harvest the crop. A truck owner sends a vehicle (and driver) to the farm to retrieve the crop. It is transported to a building owned by another, where employees are paid to process that crop (cleaning, grading, cooking, canning, freezing, etc.). Another truck owner sends a truck and driver which transports that processed product from that facility to a warehouse. There, employees sort and organize many such products, store them, and eventually place them on yet another truck, whose driver takes them to a retailer. Employees at the retailer place those goods on shelves, display them, advertise/promote them, and we individually are convinced to consume them. 

Each human being in these exchanges brings something to the equation. They have skills and abilities to grow crops, operate specialized equipment, organize, manage, display, or otherwise bring value to some segment of the parade that leads from dirt to supermarket. And, each is compensated for their contribution and skill. Each then uses that compensation to consume other goods and services elsewhere in the economy, thus similarly rewarding others for their respective skills and abilities. Through the process of economic exchange, we each employ skills and abilities, deliver value, receive compensation, and in turn consume the products and services of others. 

In a communist system, all of these factors are government owned and controlled. In the capitalist system, each are owned by individuals or companies. It is this ownership or taxation that finances government management and services. Services such as police protection, street maintenance, and more are supported by these taxes or other revenue. 

Musk envisions a world in which there will be no human farm hands, truck drivers (or truck assemblers for that matter), warehouse workers, or store employees. He envisions a world in which those tasks are all completed by the autobots, and this will "eliminate millions of jobs over the coming decades," giving us time to do "more interesting things." This techo-revolution is predicted to eliminate a vast spectrum of jobs that exist in the current economy. There are those who self-deny the potentials ("someone has to build the robots" or "someone will have to program the software"), but as the paradigm develops there is no reason that these tasks likewise cannot be undertaken by other robots and more sophisticated artificial intelligence. 

Musk contends that we will therefore "end up with a universal basic income, or something like that.” He contends that such a system "would be incredible." He contends that it is possible that "everyone would receive enough resources to be able to survive without working," and that this will "solve the problem of homelessness and poverty and also pivot our cultural and economic identity." It is not the first time that humans have heard the promise of plenty for all, and "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." But, Musk's vision requires no abilities whatsoever, perhaps a new twist on the promise?

Where would the government obtain the money from which to make these payments of "universal basic income?" Back to the foundation premise, no entity or government has inherent value or money. Value has to be created through some process or effort. Government can distribute value (or some representation of value, such as paper money or specie) only if government first acquires value, either through ownership of industry (in its broadest sense, communism) or through taxation of industry and individual effort. 

According to the Huffington Post, the vast majority of American federal government income is derived from individual income tax and payroll taxes. Both of which are fundamentally dependent upon some person producing value and being compensated (work). In the paradigm envisioned by Musk, the Utopian "no work required" world of the future, there is no work, thus no "income" and no payroll or income to tax. So, to support the Utopian future envisioned by Musk, fundamental changes in government would necessarily be required. 

Ultimately, government would be forced to replace its current employee/individual-based stream of income with some other income generating paradigm. There are about 200 million people in this country that are "working age" according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. According to the ultimate font of knowledge, Wikipedia, income statistics in the United States currently demonstrates different predicted rewards for various groups of people and skills. For example, people with doctorate degrees tend to receive greater recompense than those with bachelors degrees, who nonetheless tend to receive more than those with high school diplomas. 

Would a "universal" income program compensate each and everyone equally? If so, would there remain any real value in education or skills? If not, would there remain any purpose or value in obtaining education of any kind? Certainly, the argument would be that personal growth would be enhanced by education, but without the ultimate result of greater success, would humans pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge? Would there be a need for the vast volume of universities, colleges, trade and other  schools?

The average American earns $24.57 per hour according to the MotleyFool. Based on a "normal" forty hour week, that would be $982.80 per week, and thus for a 50 week year (assuming two weeks unpaid vacation), an average annual income of $49,140. To pay this income to the 200 million working-age people in America would require $9,830,000,000,000. That is about ten trillion dollars every year. Currently, the U.S. Government budget is approaching four trillion dollars, with as much as 10-15% of that coming from the creation of debt. The tax revenue of all (local, state and federal) government in America is "guestimated" to be just over $7 trillion. From this revenue stream must come road repairs, voter registration services, code inspections, and a vast spectrum of other government services. 

Thus, for a governmental "universal income" to replace current American standards of living may be an interesting financial challenge. Government revenue collections would essentially have to at least double. And, with the demise of individual "income" and payroll to tax, the government would have to replace that revenue from other sources. In short, those who own the means of production (automated though they may be), distribution and retail would face rates of taxation that exceed those faced today. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, corporate tax revenues currently account for about 11% of the $3.2 trillion in U.S. government tax revenues, or about $352 billion dollars. For the corporate (business ownership) element of the economy to generate the $10 trillion needed for this "universal income," the taxation on business ownership would have to be increased by about 28 times. Plus whatever is required to continue the other government expenditures currently running about another $4 trillion (11 times the $352 billion currently collected). So, all told the increase would be about 33 times. 

Some "technofuturists" assure us that while robotics are a major part of our future, the change will gradual, evolutionary rather than revolutionary. They contend that while the robots will come, they will come at a pace that will allow us, and our governmental systems to adapt. Others, however, contend that "technology is developing on an exponential curve, meaning we are fast approaching a moment where our tech will outsmart us, or at least render us obsolete." That is simply not a comforting thought. 

Still others assure us that the advent of technology will not be the end of employment. They decry the fantasy of a pure leisure world. One person quoted by Gizmodo contends that "when mechanisms increase productivity, 'new forms of employment have to be created.'” 

In the end, this coming change may be beneficial or cataclysmic. Perhaps all economic change is both beneficial and cataclysmic simultaneously? The real analysis may not be whether an ox is being gored, but in fact whose ox it is. In other words, with the coming evolution or revolution, it may be critical to our future to know whether we each are each a buggy-whip assembler, a factory owner, a pianist, a scientist, or other. What value will we each bring to a marketplace? What technology would/could make us each obsolete?