This year’s conference was an interesting blend of hard data and subjective debate.
On the hard data side we learned the preliminary results of some studies addressing what most in the business consider to be the key issues of the day, and they are all medical (a position with which I do not agree, but, admittedly, I am a minority of one). Some of the studies produced results that validated what I like to think of as the “Duh!” conclusions. These are conclusions that seem totally logical and predictable, conclusions reached by mere intuition. Trouble is, policy, at least good policy, should be based on verifiable evidence, the kind that these “Duh!” studies produce, and not by intuition.
For example, workers’ compensation pays providers better than group health, in some states way better. So, it is logical and intuitive to believe that providers in those way better states would categorize soft tissue injuries as work-related rather than group health if given the chance. And, what do you know? Preliminary results from one of the studies put “You betcha” to that one.
So, cost shifting happens, and now we have proof, proof that policymakers can cite as they suggest system improvements.
Subjective debate was alive and well in the two Opt-Out panels. There were eight panel presenters, and only one of them, Elizabeth Bailey, from Waffle House, Inc., produced any data. As I wrote during the conference, Ms. Bailey presented data on cost savings Waffle House achieved since Opting-Out of Texas workers’ compensation in 2002. The savings were impressive, indeed, but, as attendees pointed out during the question period, Waffle House has made other workers’ compensation, safety and employee involvement improvements since Opting-Out, so it’s hard to say just how much Opting-Out has contributed to the cost savings. In other words, Waffle House’s cost savings may be nothing more than a painted hook on which Opt-Out enthusiasts want to hang their collective hats. More study is needed. Let’s hope it happens.
And let us not forget Bob Hartwig, the illustrious outgoing President of III, the Insurance Information Institute. Dr. Hartwig, who delivers presentations at Gatling gun speed, spoke on the Sharing Economy, or, as Hilary Clinton calls it, the Gig Economy. His formidable presentation was entertaining, educational and scary all at the same time.
For me, three things are memorable from the presentation:
- The Gig economy is bigger than anyone thinks, and is growing swiftly. And, as you might imagine, Millennials are deep into it. This is a movement that has the power to change an economic system.
- Hartwig suggested that the days of AI, Artificial Intelligence, taking over America’s jobs are farther in the distance than have been predicted by AI experts. His position is one with which I, respectfully, disagree. I think we’re closer to a cataclysmic shift than he believes. To put a point to that, Gary Anderberg, Senior VP of Analytics for Gallagher Bassett, suggested, no, pronounced, during the question period that all of the WCRI attendees could be replaced given today’s Watson-like technology. That’s heady stuff.
- I got to ask the last question of Dr. Hartwig, and it was this: “To what degree do you believe the Gig Economy correlates to the relative stagnation in hourly wages over the last 40 years?” His reply? “Good question. A lot.”
Bob Hartwig now moves to a professorship at the University of South Carolina, and the students in the Finance Department have no idea what is about to hit them. I predict his classes will be over-subscribed from the get-go.
Hope to see you at next year’s WCRI conference, March 2nd and 3rd in Boston.