WCRI’s Annual Conference: Two Days of Research Data. What Could Be Better?

February 15th, 2016 by Tom Lynch

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, located in the heart of Geek Heaven, Cambridge, Massachusetts, begins its 32nd Annual Issues and Research Conference in less than a month, 23 days to be precise. The conference is always interesting and often highly informative. Looking at the Agenda, this year’s effort seems to hit on both marks.

The theme is Understanding Today to Prepare for Tomorrow, which I guess could be anyone’s daily Mantra, but is exactly what the WCRI has been doing since its founding in 1983.

A lot has happened in the workers’ comp world since then. Perhaps the most astonishing development is the tremendous rise in medical costs. In the mid-1980s, medical costs comprised about 44% of total loss cost dollars, while indemnity payments took the lion’s share of 56%. Today, we see something entirely different, with medical costs taking up around 60% of the total. How times have changed!

However, comparing medical to indemnity costs is a bit like the old apples and oranges cliché. By that I mean that medical costs, despite fee schedules, have been able to go on there own little rocket ride to the moon in most states. Indemnity payment increases, on the other hand, are everywhere limited and tied in some way to the rise in the average weekly wage in the various states. And since 1973, average hourly wages, measured in constant 1984 dollars, have increased by a paltry 4%. This is one of the reasons why, despite a continuing decrease in injury frequency, a concomitant increase in severity doesn’t move the indemnity needle.

WCRI’s conference will dive into workers’ comp’s thorny issues with both feet. The session entitled Impact of Fee Schedules on Case-Shifting in Workers’ Compensation promises to be interesting, indeed. The relationship of case-shifting to the ACA has been something that many have opined about, but now I presume we’ll see some solid data.

Another session that looks as if it will present both interest and fireworks is the Opt-Out Panel. Actually, there are two Op-Out Panels. WCRI is devoting nearly three hours to the subject. Seat belts should be fastened.

I’m looking forward to this year’s conference. It’s happening  March 10-11 at the Westin Copley Place Hotel. Hope to see you there.

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