As I write this, we are 34 days from this year’s not-to-be-missed Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s Annual Conference. It all happens at the Westin Copley Place on March 2 and 3 in the greatest city in America. That would be Boston (sorry New York, Chicago, LA and all the rest of you).
This is always one of the top conferences in the nation, jam packed with enough data to satisfy any green-eye-shaded, algorithm loving, analytic modeler.
As you might imagine, this year’s agenda will include a bit of crystal ball gazing with respect to the future of American health care. I discussed that and other conference topics recently with Dr. John Ruser, WCRI’s President and CEO, at the Institute’s Cambridge, MA, offices.
This is Dr. Ruser’s first full year at the WCRI helm. About a year ago he succeeded Dr. Richard Victor, WCRI’s founder and iconic long time leader. Ruser, a perceptive intellectual, realized he had big shoes to fill, so he told me his goal for the first year was “stability.” He wanted a “steady transition.” That’s one goal he can check off as done. No staff left and they all continued to do significant research, much of which will be on display at the upcoming conference in the world’s greatest city.
WCRI’s research can impact policy. For example, in early December, 2016, Massachusetts Governor Charley Baker unveiled the Commonwealth’s new pilot program to help injured workers with opioid addiction. This from the Worcester Telegram:
The two-year pilot program is designed for people with settled workers’ compensation cases who are being treated with opioid medication, but whose insurance company seeks to stop payment for the opioid. Such cases, Gov. Charlie Baker said, can take up to a year to come to a resolution, and all the while the worker is prescribed opioids
“Injured workers in Massachusetts receive 10 percent more prescriptions for opioids on average than 25 other states that were studied in a two-year study done by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (emphasis added), and Massachusetts led the studied states with the percentage of pain medications that were written for Oxycodone and nearly half of all prescriptions stronger than schedule II opioids,” Baker said. “There’s more we can do to help injured workers with settled workers’ compensation claims get appropriate treatment for pain management.”
Going forward, Ruser knows it’s time for him to begin making his mark at WCRI. This former Bureau of Labor Statistics executive wants to “increase WCRI’s reach.” He’s commissioned the building of a new website with the aim of “producing a much better search engine,” which will allow for “easier access to the Institute’s work.” I asked him what that really meant? He said he realizes that the work is scientific in nature, but that doesn’t mean it has to be obscure. He’s looking for plain english with a more “pithy” language style for Abstracts and Research Briefs. Doing so will allow WCRI to reach more stakeholders. A worthy goal, and we wish him luck.
John Ruser emphasized this year’s conference will tend to focus on three main questions:
- What impact will the 2016 election have on healthcare (ACA, Medicare, etc.), labor and the workforce, and workers’ compensation?
- Is the workers’ compensation system still fulfilling its mission or does it need revisiting?
- With opioid use decreasing, what alternatives exist to treat pain?
The conference’s agenda is interesting, for sure, but for my money I’m eager to attend the first and last sessions. The opening session is on “The Impact of the 2016 Election,” and the presenters are former U.S. Representative Henry Waxman and former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. I think that’s where the crystal ball gazing happens. We all know workers’ compensation is the tiny caboose at the end of the great big health care train. It remains to be seen whether the former Senator and former Representative will get deep into the weeds of what the coming blow up of the Affordable Care Act will do to that little caboose. A year from now we’ll see how prescient Waxman and Coburn have been.
But on to the final session. Last year, at this time, the workers’ compensation industry was rocked by a series of articles by ProPublica’s Michael Grabell and NPR’s Howard Berkes. Grabell lifted some ugly stones and rather unpleasant things crawled out. The industry lashed back. Perhaps the most reasoned comment was from Dr. Victor at the 2016 conference when he said, “Using anecdotes isn’t the best way to analyze an entire national system.”
The last session is at 10:35 AM on Friday morning (don’t leave early). This is the first session’s complement and is likely to get into some of the Grabell/Berkes territory. “Appraising the “Grand Bargain” in 2017″ has four wonderful presenters, all of whom I admire. Professor Emily Spieler, Northeastern University School of Law, Dr. David Deitz, Principal, David Deitz & Associates, Dr. David Michaels, Former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) and Bruce Wood, of the American Insurance Association are going to take a hard look at workers’ compensation in the here and now. Their comments should bookend nicely with those of Henry Waxman and Tom Coburn.
As we were winding up our talk I asked John Ruser what he hoped would be the biggest takeaway for attendees. “Honestly,” he said, “I want everyone to come out feeling they’ve learned something, something important.” Amen to that.
This year’s conference promises to be well-attended, but if you’re going (and you should be going), you might want to book your hotel now. WCRI has reserved a block of rooms at a special rate of $246 per night. They will go fast. You can register here.
I hope to see you soon in the Milky Way’s greatest city.