Who Is Tough Enough for a Conference in Wintry Boston?

By | March 3, 2015

It was 78 degrees and sunny yesterday when Tammy Perdue was packing her suitcase and the local forecast called for more of the same all week.

Perdue, general counsel for Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) in Tallahassee, is on her way to Boston, where she is in for the shock of temperatures well below freezing, plus a numbing wind chill.

She will also encounter snowbanks and snowdrifts taller than she is.

“As a whole-hearted Floridian, I am packing every item of clothing I can layer and anticipate looking like the Michelin man at the conference,” Perdue says.

For anyone living in a cave, the Boston area has been suffering one of its snowiest and coldest winters ever. More than 100 inches of snow fell in February.

Who would trade the warmth of the Sunshine State for the brrrriskness of New England weather—and people— this time of year?

Workers’ compensation professionals, that’s who.

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) is holding its annual conference in Boston starting Thursday, March 5 and running through Friday noon.

The Cambridge-based specialty think tank has been holding its conference in the Boston area for 30 years—around this same time of year.

Dr. Richard Victor, WCRI executive director, exhibits a certain pride in the resilience and fortitude of the WCRI participants and attendees who rework their wardrobes and risk flight cancellations in order to be present.

Asked if he has ever considered holding the conference some place warmer, Victor defiantly declares, “Never!”

Privately, Victor’s got to hope nobody slips and falls on the ice.

The Institute brings together all of the stakeholders in the workers’ compensation system including public officials, insurers, employers, injured workers and organized labor. Its research delves into how the state workers’ comp systems are working and how they compare, what factors are driving costs, and what effect certain law changes have had and could have.

This year, attendees will learn about “an under-appreciated but likely very significant unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act ” in shifting cases from group health to workers’ compensation, according to Victor.

There is a whole section devoted to the costs and consequences of physician dispensing of drugs, which Victor says is an issue of great interest among states. In the past several years, 17 states have enacted changes to address this issue and more are considering doing so.

On Friday, the conference will look at workers’ comp reforms that have taken place in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Florida in recent years to see what lessons they may hold for other states.

Also on Friday, presenters will address challenges that might lead to “renovation” of workers’ compensation. These include growing interest in opt-out legislation and constitutional challenges to workers’ compensation.

For each conference, WCRI also invites someone from outside the workers’ compensation field. This year the keynoter will be Professor Gary Orren, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, whose area is leadership and persuasion.

Perdue is not alone in traveling from Florida. Presenters and participants are also expected from Texas, California, Louisiana and other states, and attendees are coming from around the globe.

There is one silver lining for Florida’s Perdue. The Florida Legislature opens this week so escaping Tallahassee for a few days “isn’t too terrible a proposition,” she admits.

When she said that, she had not seen the weather report for Wednesday-Thursday at Boston’s Logan Airport: “Snow likely. Patchy fog. Additional light snow accumulation possible. Much colder. Near steady temperature in the mid 20s. Northwest winds 5 to 10 mph. Gusts up to 20 mph in the afternoon. Chance of snow 70 percent.”

Have a good trip.

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