Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

The Psychosocial Buzz Is Getting Louder

Friday, March 24th, 2017

“We know the single greatest roadblock to timely work injury recovery and controlling claim costs. And it’s not overpriced care, or doubtful medical provider quality, or even litigation. It is the negative impact of personal expectations, behaviors, and predicaments that can come with the injured worker or can grow out of work injury.

This suite of roadblocks is classified as “psychosocial” issues – issues which claims leaders now rank as the number one barrier to successful claim outcomes according to the Workers’ Compensation Benchmarking Study’s 2016 survey – and they drive up claim costs far more than catastrophic injuries, mostly due to delayed recovery.”

That’s the beginning of a new White Paper authored by friend and colleague Peter Rousmaniere and Rising Medical Solution’s Rachel Fikes. The Paper, How to Overcome Psychosocial Roadblocks: Claims Advocacy’s Biggest Opportunity, reports on Rising’s 2016 Benchmarking Survey and describes how the workers’ compensation claims management community is ever so slowly coming to realize the leading cause of delayed recovery for America’s injured workers is psychosocial in nature and that efforts to deal with this have, up to now, been woefully inadequate.

Rousmaniere and Fikes point to enlightened employers and insurers who are leading their companies to a greater acceptance of the need for competent, professional intervention to help injured workers overcome mental and emotional barriers delaying their return to employment.

They cite the work of Denise Algire, Director of Risk Initiatives and National Medical Director for Albertson Companies, a grocery chain with more than 285,000 employees. They also report on efforts by The Hartford, Nationwide Insurance and CNA.

All of the progressive actions undertaken by these organizations have one thing in common: the development of an empathic interview methodology devoted to understanding the “whole person” to discover which claims will need more intensive and specialized intervention.

At the Albertson Companies, Ms. Algire espouses the Advocacy-based model of claim management. This model emphasizes building a conversational and trust-based relationship with an injured worker through organic dialogue. She has introduced a modified Linton tool for screening injured workers for psychosocial comorbidities and has contracted with an external telephonic triage firm to conduct initial screenings.

At The Hartford, Medical Director Marco Iglesias reports 10% of claims fall into the psychosocial bucket with at least one psychosocial comorbidity, but they consume 60% of total incurred costs. He says adjusters now ask each injured worker an important question: “When do you expect to return to work?” The Hartford’s analytics indicate any answer longer than ten days is a red flag for the future.

Nationwide Insurance, under the direction of Trecia Sigle, VP of Workers’ Compensation Claims, is building a specialized team to address psychosocial roadblocks. Nationwide’s intake process will consist of a combination of manual scoring and predictive modeling, and then adjusters will refer red-flagged workers to specialists with the “right skill set.”

Pamela Highsmith-Johnson, national director of case management at CNA, says the insurer introduced a “Trusted Advisor” training program for all employees who come into contact with injured workers. CNA’s Knowledge and Learning Group helped develop the training with internal claims and nursing staff.

This White Paper adds to the now undeniable research indicating the psychosocial problem is the biggest one facing the workers’ compensation claims community today. The leading experts agree that empathy, soft talk and the advocacy-based claims model is the method of choice for helping injured workers whose claims carry a psychosocial dimension. The experts cited in the White Paper all agree that adjusters will require extensive and repetitive training to learn the new techniques.

However, all of this is a heavy lift for an adjuster community overburdened and overwhelmed with work, a group for which the average lost time claim load is often north of 150. Even with better training, they can’t do it alone. To really turn the psychosocial tide will require a well-rounded team of claims adjusters, nurses, case managers and external, well-trained clinicians working together with transparent, technologically advanced communication.

The missing links thus far are those well-trained clinicians and the advanced communication. Without these two components, the adjuster community will be sore-pressed to achieve meaningful results.

Update On Medical Marijuana

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Yesterday, while attending WCRI’s Annual Conference in Boston, we wrote about the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) new research results concerning the effectiveness of  medical marijuana (cannabis) in the treatment of chronic pain. The NAS research concluded there is “conclusive support” that cannabis is effective with respect to chronic pain. A number of states are allowing cannabis to be employed in this regard.

However, marijuana is federally illegal in any usage, medical or otherwise.

We learn today from the Boston Globe that a bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives by Virginia Representative Thomas Garrett yesterday to remedy this situation. From the Globe’s story:

A freshman Republican representative from Virginia introduced legislation this week that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana use and allow states to fully set their own course on marijuana policy.

The bill seeks to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and resolve the existing conflict between federal and state laws over medical or recreational use of the drug. It would not legalize the sale and use of marijuana in all 50 states — it would simply allow states to make their own decisions on marijuana policy without the threat of federal interference.

‘‘Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California,’’ Representative Thomas Garrett said in a statement. Neither recreational or medical uses of marijuana are allowed in Virginia.

Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a similar bill last year, but no one would co-sponsor it, and it never even got a hearing. Garrett, however, has four co-sponsors already.

We will continue to watch this.

Who Knew? Medical Marijuana Works (at least for chronic pain)

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Dean Hashimoto, MD, JD, is a highly-respected researcher and teacher, practicing at Massachusetts’s Partners Health Care (think Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital) and teaching at Boston College Law School. Today, at WCRI’s Annual Conference, his topic was Medical Marijuana and Workers’ Compensation: Recent Scientific, Legal and Policy Developments.

He led off with the results of a January,2017, scientific report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS). The NAS report is a comprehensive, in-depth review of existing evidence regarding the health effects and potentially therapeutic uses of Medical Marijuana (cannabis). The report arrived at nearly 100 research conclusions categorized by the weight of evidence (conclusive, substantial, moderate, limited, no or insufficient).

One of the report’s conclusions that had “conclusive and substantial support” was this: Medical Marijuana is proven to improve chronic pain in adults. There is “moderate” support for the conclusion that Medical Marijuana improves short-term sleep outcomes for both fibromyalgia and chronic pain.

Of course, there are downsides. The report also concludes (DUH!) that Medical Marijuana carries with it an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Also, however, there was conclusive, substantial support that taking Medical Marijuana can lead to the development of schizophrenia and other psychoses. Yikes!

The NAS report also investigated whether there was an association between cannabis and occupational injury. The conclusion? There was no conclusion, because the available studies do not permit one to be made with any degree of certainty.

The bottom line? Medical Marijuana presents a potentially therapeutic benefit in the treatment of chronic pain.

Well, that’s not really the bottom line. No, because the larger issue is this: Medical Marijuana is being used in a number of states. Today, along with Dr. Hashimoto, we also heard compelling stories from Paul Sighinolfi, of Maine’s Workers’ Compensation Board, and Paul Tauiello, of the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation, describing the successful medical use of cannabis which is generating momentum in both states toward the therapeutic use of cannabis. The trouble is the usage of Marijuana in any form is federally illegal in every state. Seems there is a collision coming, and it may not be pretty.

Reader Reactions To Our Psychosocial Issues Series

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

A number of readers wrote to us about last week’s two-part series on psychosocial issues and how they confound claim adjusters and increase costs. A few readers pointed out that we paid scant attention to the “social” in psychosocial. These adjusters and nurses wrote that too often they’d seen and handled claims where life and “societal issues” seemed to get in the way of recovery. Sue Separa, who has overseen workers’ compensation claims for more than 30 years in 40 states and jurisdictions, put it this way:

Employee loses car, loses license, loses driving privileges and can’t get to work, but still needs a source of income;

Employee is having daycare issues and needs to be home, but also needs a source of income;

Employee has a sick relative or child they need to stay with/watch, but still needs a source of income;

Employee is attending school to better themselves, has a heavy school schedule, but still needs a source of income;

Employee has a comorbid or health situation that requires medical care and possibly surgery or absence from work, and has not secured short term disability, or it is not available with the employer; 

Employee has asked for vacation time and it is denied due to no time left, or not eligible, or because someone else is off work at the same time.

And she’s right. Of course these real life situations occur. However, they’re present and happen all the time without injuries, too. They are non-physical, “social” comorbidities; things that can easily impede and delay return to work. Unless, that is, claim adjusters are trained and experienced enough, as Ms. Separa is, to dig a little deeper, find them and address them appropriately.

We also heard from our friend Robert Aurbach who wrote from Down Under to say, while he “applauds” our efforts and thinks “they are valuable,” he suggests “perhaps they don’t go far enough.” Rob believes the “problem is partly the system itself;” we create the harm I cited. As that great American philosopher, Pogo, opined on Earth Day, 1971, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The system is iatrogenic (system caused).

Rob Aurbach also sent me a paper he authored in late 2015 for the Injury Schemes Seminar, put on bi-annually by the Australian Actuaries Institute. In the Paper (opens in pdf), titled “Better Recovery Through Neuroscience: Addressing Legislative and Regulatory Design, Injury Management and Resilience,” (bit of a mouthful that, but it won the Taylor Fry Award for the Seminar’s best paper) Rob explores Neuroplasticity, a theory dating from the 1800s and recently confirmed by functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Neuroplasticity is the process by which our brains continually rewire themselves throughout life due to environment, behavior, thinking and emotions. In short, it’s true; our brains are malleable. Rob writes that when work is disrupted through injury (or, through anything, really) for a long enough period, Neuroplasticity begins rewiring the brain to adapt to the new situation – being out of work. In other words, our brain creates a new “facilitated neural network.” This can happen in as little as 12 weeks, as Rob points out:

Timing is everything. There is a substantial research literature demonstrating that if a worker does not return to work within 12 -16 weeks, the probability of eventual return is reduced to 50% or less.

Rob Aurbach’s paper is a valuable contribution to understanding how easily a claim can deteriorate to the point where an injured person’s life is forever changed, and not for the better. I urge you to read it. It’s well-researched, well-written and profoundly thoughtful. Twenty-seven pages long, the last seven of which are endnotes and references. I found the first half of the text compelling and enlightening. His common sense recommendations that follow are pretty simple, but wickedly difficult to implement: Claim managers and adjusters should intervene early, demonstrate respect for the injured worker, promote early return to work, align incentives that encourage recovery, restrain negativity, listen attentively to the worker’s story, etc. In short, all the things managers, nurses and adjusters like Sue Separa know they should be doing, anyway. Trouble is, for these often overworked professionals, each managing a steamer trunkful of claims, there isn’t a lot of time to devote to Rob’s prescription. The iatrogenic system isn’t built to allow it.

And that’s where behavioral health clinicians and therapists, for the most part underused and undertrained, should be called on to help. Work Comp Psych Net, the New Jersey company I described last week, would be a good place to start.

Workers’ Compensation Psychosocial Issues: A Big, Fat, Costly Problem

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Workers’ compensation claims adjusters are busier than the Ed Sullivan Plate Spinner. Running around with one or two hundred lost time claims would make anyone dizzy, but at the recent National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference (NWCDC) in New Orleans, presenters tossed the frazzled spinners a few more plates to shoot up on the sticks.

The issue? Psychosocial factors delaying claim resolution.

At one well-attended session, Marco Iglesias, Medical Director for The Hartford, and Robert Hall, Corporate Medical Director for Optum, went into great detail about how psychosocial factors rear their heads in the claim process and how they impede recovery.

For example, consider these research statistics based on a study of 75,000 claims:

Time out of work increases 30% for a musculoskeletal claim with one co-morbid complication;

Duration increases 57% if the claim co-morbidity is depression;

According to The Hartford’s Dr. Iglesias, 10% of claims, the ones with all those psychosocial issues, cause 60% of claim costs;

At another presentation, attendees learned that Mental Health, Addiction and Obesity are the three comorbidities causing the greatest cost and time away from work.

Also, according to an AETNA presentation, 97% of depressed patients have a second co-morbid condition.

Research aplenty. Solutions, not so many.

So, perhaps it’s time for a more comprehensive discussion.

To begin that, let me propose a thesis:

Our nation’s current system for treating injured workers with mental health issues is uncoordinated, overly fragmented, highly wasteful and does not focus enough on speedy return to work. There is a critical need for a more systemic approach as well as an integrated coterie of clinicians and practitioners, trained in workers’ compensation, whose goals are to provide compassionate treatment with a steady return to work trajectory. 

The issue is compounded by the way claim adjusters, supervisors, nurses and defense attorneys view psychological issues. No one wants to ”buy a psych claim,” and many  believe that referring a claimant for behavioral health treatment does nothing more than create a lifetime annuity for a psychologist. Time and again this view has been proven correct.

What to do about that? Ay, there’s the rub. For in that question lies a host of difficulties. These, for instance:

  1. Most mental health professionals do not understand workers’ compensation. They do not realize either its statutory requirements or the concept of maximum medical improvement. They have spent many years being trained to treat the entire person. The players are the patient and the therapist, and it is like sitting on a two-legged stool. They do not fathom that, in workers’ compensation, the stool has five legs, with the other three occupied by the employer, the treating physician and the claim adjuster.
  2. Too often, by the time an adjuster or nurse recognizes that psychosocial issues may be impeding recovery and return to work the claim may have gotten a little long in the tooth; it could be months old, or more.
  3. It can take a claim adjuster weeks, in rare cases, months, to find a psychologist and schedule an appointment. It can also take weeks or months for a report to make it back to the file. Moreover, finding a clinician with even a smattering of workers’ compensation knowledge or experience is often problematic (See 1, above).
  4. Because there is no mental health electronic health record system for workers’ compensation, every report is its own island, sometimes good, sometimes bad.
  5. Everything is paper-based, which wastes claim adjuster time and increases expense.¹
  6. Although psychologists understand the value of work as therapy, many see no reason to help coordinate early return to work with employers, claim adjusters or medical providers

These are deep and difficult considerations. Tomorrow, we’ll describe one possible solution offered by a company in New Jersey, which, in the interests of full disclosure, is a Lynch Ryan clent.

 

¹ Claim adjusters also report that a not insignificant number of these reports are essentially unreadable, because they are handwritten.

 

A Conversation With WCRI’s John Ruser, Ph.D.

Monday, January 30th, 2017

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.

Go Pats!

 

Highlights: Fall NCCI Issues Report

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

“NCCI just released its Workers Compensation 2016 Issues Report: Fall Edition. It’s a robust 68-page edition, an important barometer of industry results and trends that we think should be on everyone’s reading list. In addition to updated State of the Line results for the workers compensation for 2014 and 2015 and preliminary estimates for Calendar Year 2016, this edition includes articles and reports on a number of key issues. It’s available in both PDF and virtual flipbook style. It’s also available via individual article, which gives an overview of the contents.

We haven’t fully digested the whole report, but we point you to a few highlights and excerpts that caught our eye.

Workers Compensation Financial Results Update (PDF)
Some key findings:

  • “NCCI’s current estimate for 2016 net written premium is $41.2 billion, a new high-water mark for the workers compensation line. This represents a 3.8% growth over the 2015 premium level.”
  • “The 2015 net combined ratio for workers compensation of 94% marked the fourth consecutive year of improvement. NCCI’s preliminary estimate is that the combined ratio will hold steady at 94% in 2016. This represents three consecutive years of underwriting gains for an industry that has posted combined ratios of less than 100% in only two other years since 1990. The estimate for 2016 is based on private carrier direct calendar year incurred losses, direct earned premium, and historical net-to-direct ratios.”

Investigating the Drivers of the 2015 Workers Compensation Medical Severity Decline (PDF)

  • “NCCI reported at its 2016 Annual Issues Symposium that workers compensation lost-time medical severity decreased by an estimated 1% in Accident Year (AY) 2015. This marks the first time in more than two decades that medical severity has declined.”
  • “A 3% decline in paid costs per claim for physician services accounts for most of the medical severity decline in AY 2015—a 3% decline in utilization of physician services is a major driver.”

Workers Compensation and Prescription Drugs 2016 Update (PDF)

  • “NCCI estimates that for every $100 paid for medical services provided to workers injured in 2014, $17 will be paid for prescription drugs.  Furthermore, the prescription drugs portion of medical costs increases rapidly as claims age. For every $100 of medical services paid on claims older than 10 years, approximately $45 to $50 will be for prescription drugs.”

2016 Legislative and Regulatory Outlook

  • “While more than 700 bills addressing workers compensation issues were introduced, only about 10% of these measures were enacted and none of the enacted laws made significant system changes. It is of note that legislatures in MT, ND, NV, and TX do not convene in even numbered years.”
  • “Going into these elections, Republicans hold their strongest state presence ever, with a majority in roughly 70% of state legislative chambers and full legislative dominance (holding the majority in both chambers) in 30 states. In addition, a Republican occupies the governor’s mansion in 31 states, 23 of which have a Republican sweep—the party holds sway in both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office. There are only seven states where Democrats hold that coveted trifecta.
    Come November 8, however, those numbers are likely to change.”

Impacts of the Affordable Care Act on Workers Compensation
Key Findings

  • “The ACA has had no discernible impact in crowding out workers compensation claimants from access to primary care services through 2014, the first full year of expanded medical insurance coverage under the ACA.”
  • “68% of primary care services provided during the first 90 days of a workers compensation claim occur during the claim’s first 10 days.”

These excerpts are just a peek under the covers – many other worthwhile articles are also available,  such as an analysis of the OK Opt-out decision, an update on marijuana legalization, and more.

 

 

Mike Manley On The Oregon Workers’ Compensation Premium Rate Ranking Study

Monday, October 10th, 2016

I have always tried to surround myself with people smarter than I. People such as Gary Anderberg, Peter Rousmaniere, Jennifer Christian, Joe Paduda, Bob Wilson, Mark Walls and Julie Ferguson, to name just a few of the legion. Mike Manley is in the group, too. Mike is Research Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services and co-author of what is known in the biz as The Oregon Study.

For three decades, the state of Oregon’s workers’ compensation research group has published this bi-annual study, which won the 2006 IAIABC Research Award. The executive summary of this year’s study is due to be released in the next few days, and the findings are closely watched in quite a few states. Unlike the National Academy of Social Insurance report, issued last week, the Oregon study takes the comparison beyond simple averages. Instead, Oregon derives average rates for what a hypothetical set of comparable employers would pay, thus factoring out much of the difference in states’ risk profiles.

With any comparison across states in the workers’ compensation arena, there are caveats and fine points to be considered. Naturally, there are questions that arise about the methods and interpretation of the findings.

At the Insider, it’s unusual  to have guest bloggers; we’ve only done it a handful of times over 14 years. But for important issues, we make exceptions. The Oregon Study is such an issue. So, I asked Mike if he would write something he wanted our readers to know about the upcoming study. He came up with a list of ten, and we’re going to publish every one of them right here right now. Who knows? You may be reading the latest study tomorrow, but if you are, you’ll be armed with Mike’s intelligent cheat sheet. What follows are the ten things to know about the Oregon Study, by Mike Manley.

           Ten things WC professionals should know about the Oregon Study

  1. This isn’t a report card! The study isn’t an overall evaluation of states’ workers’ compensation systems. There are other important aspects of workers’ compensation systems that are beyond the scope of this analysis. The study focuses on one aspect of workers’ compensation systems: rates paid by employers that purchase insurance.
  2. The study uses a consistent hazard mix across states. This is done by giving each state the same hypothetical distribution of risks, in order to control for the differences in risk across states. This distribution is most similar to Oregon (a national distribution doesn’t exist). Occasionally there have been concerns that this might create some kind of bias, so we’ve checked into that question. Looking at other methods that don’t use the Oregon risk distribution to standardize risk, we find no basis for this concern. The other studies have results that are very similar, once a consistent hazard mix is used.
  3. Rank values are useful, but they have major limitations for interstate comparison. So, we publish a second comparison factor, Percent of Study Median. We recommend using this measure, rather than rank values, for comparing states’ relative rate position over multiple studies.
  4. We study rates using a snapshot on January 1 of the study year. We look at where the rates are on the date of the snapshot, not whether they are going up or down.
  5. Index Rates are averages, sort of. The study’s Index Rate is different than a simple average rate. Premium rates within a state vary dramatically by the risk classification involved, and states’ economies have a different mix of these classifications. The study controls for these differences by looking at premium rates as if each state had the same mix of risks. This figure is the Index Rate, which is not the state’s actual average; instead it’s an average that has been weighted for comparability across states.
  6. High-wage or low-wage state? Don’t worry, wage rate differences across states have little or no impact on the results. Here’s why: rates in workers’ compensation are measured in dollars per $100 units of payroll. High-wage states may have higher benefit levels, but they also have higher wage bases. So, when both parts of the computation increase with higher wages, the resulting rate isn’t affected.
  7. Pure premium rates are a big part of the rate comparison, but only a part. The study also includes factors for insurer overhead and state administrative agencies’ assessments, when these can be put on a comparable basis.
  8. Study data don’t tell us why a state’s rates have been going up or down, or where they might be in the future. Nor do they tell us how effective a system is in minimizing disputes, getting injured workers back to work, paying out adequate benefits, or getting cost-effective medical treatment. Clearly, those are important performance areas too.
  9. The study doesn’t consider insurers’ profitability, discounts, dividends, or activity in the state’s assigned-risk plan. Those items aren’t available for all states, and even when they are available, they’re often incomplete during the year we’re studying. Employers that self-insure (or, in a few jurisdictions, opt not to insure) aren’t included in the study because they aren’t paying workers’ compensation premiums.
  10. Need more detail? We’ve got more! There are two publications that report Oregon’s findings in each study cycle:
  • a summary, typically published in the fall of even-numbered years, and
  • a full report with much greater detail, published the following winter.

Prior studies, both summary and full reports, are available at: http://www.oregon.gov/DCBS/reports/Pages/general-wc-system.aspx

 

The Bike Helmet Battle: Some Things never Change

Monday, August 29th, 2016

It’s been ten years since the Insider wrote a word about motorcycle and bicycle helmets. Shame on us. This Post provides a ten-year update and connects helmet use to workers’ compensation.

To review the bidding:

We “tackled” motorcycle helmets after Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers (who, at the time, were reigning Super Bowl champions), had been seriously injured when, sans helmet, he drove head on into the side of a Chrysler New Yorker making a left turn in front of him in downtown Pittsburgh. Big Ben suffered serious facial and head injuries. He could easily have been killed. We ended that Post with this:

As a diehard New England Patriot fan, I really want to see Ben Roethlisberger on the field challenging my team for all he’s worth. So, I hope he makes a miraculously speedy recovery and is his old self by the start of training camp. But what would be really great, better than any football game, is if Big Ben, as soon as he’s sitting up and able to mouth coherent speech, were to make a big-time television public service announcement. A TV spot in which he would tell every kid and every football fan in America that he was wrong, that he was stupid, that he is not immortal and that he will never, ever again ride a motorcycle without wearing the best helmet made in the universe.

That didn’t happen. Quite the opposite, actually. For when media asked Mr. Super Bowl Superman if he would continue riding his bike (well, make that his new bike) and, if so, would he wear a helmet, he said “Yes” to the first and “No” to the second. It was at that moment that I knew we had lost the motorcycle helmet game in America.

With respect to bicycle helmets we reported on a New York City study (unfortunately no longer available) analyzing the 225 bicycle accident deaths that occurred over the most recent ten year period in the City. The study provided compelling evidence of life-saving properties of bicycle helmets. This from that Post:

  • Almost three-quarters of fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury.
  • Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet.
  • Helmet use among those bicyclists with serious injuries was low (13%), but it was even lower among bicyclists killed (3%).
  • Only one fatal crash with a motor vehicle occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bike lane.
  • Nearly all bicyclist deaths (92%) occurred as a result of crashes with motor vehicles.
  • Large vehicles (trucks, buses) were involved in almost one-third (32%) of fatal crashes, but they make up approximately 15% of vehicles on NYC roadways.
  • Most fatal crashes (89%) occurred at or near intersections.
  • Nearly all (94%) fatalities involved human error.
  • Most bicyclists who died were males (91%), and men aged 45–54 had the highest death rate (8.1 per million) of any age group.

So, where are we now?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, known as universal helmet laws (Insider Note: in 2006, it was 20 states and the District of Columbia). Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 28 states. There is no motorcycle helmet use law in three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire).

Regarding bicycles helmets, no state requires an adult to wear one, although 21 states and the District of Columbia require young riders to wear them.

Now, into this cranial hodgepodge of helmet laws ride researchers from the University of Arizona. Writing in the American Journal of Surgery, they report on their study, the largest ever done regarding the efficacy of bicycle helmets. This from the study’s Abstract:

Methods

We performed analysis of the 2012 NTDB abstracted information of all patients with an intracranial hemorrhage after bicycle related accidents. Regression analysis was performed.

Results

A total of 6,267 patients were included. 25.1%(n=1,573) of bicycle riders were helmeted. Overall 52.4%(n=3,284) patients had severe TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and the mortality rate was 2.8%(n=176). Helmeted bicycle riders had 51% reduced odds of severe TBI (0.49 [0.43-0.55]; p<0.001) and 44% reduced odds of mortality (0.56; 95% CI, 0.34-0.78; p=0.010). Helmet use also reduced the odds of facial fractures by 31%(0.69; 95% CI, 0.58-0.81; p<0.001).

Conclusion

Bicycle helmet use provides protection against severe TBI, reduces facial fractures, and saves lives even after sustaining an intracranial hemorrhage.

The good news from this study? In a bicycle accident you are more than 50% less likely to sustain a TBI, 44% less likely to die and 31% less likely sustain a facial fracture if you are wearing a helmet (Insider Note: Ask Ben Roethlisberger to describe the pain of a facial fracture).

The bad news? Despite the good news only 25% of bicyclists wear helmets. In ten years nothing has changed.

Does this have anything to do with workers’ compensation? According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, if you’re one of the more than 73,000 bicycle messengers and couriers in the U.S. it might. And if you’re one of the more than 12,000 that navigate streets in southern California or one of the more than 5,000 that zip through Midtown Manhattan, or one of the 1,400 dodging traffic in Chicago’s Loop it might. Because, while all states require employers to provide helmets to their bicyclist employees, and while most states require employers to provide training that includes the benefits of helmets, no state requires the bicyclist to wear them. However, both New York City and Chicago have enacted local laws requiring employers to provide working cyclists helmets meeting either A.N.S.I. or Snell standards and further require the cyclists to wear them.  Although in the case of NYC, someone might want to pass the requirement on to the messenger and courier companies, the largest of which told me wearing a helmet is “totally up to the rider’s discretion.”

For now, we’re left with a mish-mash. Things are pretty much as they were back in 2006, along with the helmetless rider’s continuing mantra: “It’s all about the freedom of personal choice.” That may be true, but society, that’s you, I and everyone else, doesn’t have a choice about sending EMT Rescue Units to the scenes of cycle accidents and caring for those who sustain serious injury or death in the “Live Free Or Die” game.

 

 

The GB Journal: Pithy, Trenchant and Chock Full Of Stuff You Can Use

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

In March of this year, friend and colleague Dr. Gary Anderberg, Senior VP of Claim Analytics for Gallagher Bassett Services, had another one of his good ideas: Publish concise and useful information for risk managers who don’t have a lot of spare time to wade through oodles of research. In Gary’s words:

The basic purpose of The GB Journal is to keep our clients informed on new developments that impact WC, A/L, G/L and property coverages. The idea is that most risk managers are more than a little pressed for time, so a neat synopsis with a link or two for those interested in more details, will be helpful. We also see this as a neat vehicle for generating useful conversations between our account managers and our clients concerning important issues. I try to keep the average item to about 350 to 400 words and no more than three items per issue. That’s no more than five minutes of reading time total.

And presto, his GB Journal was born.

GB 11 August

I love the tagline: We deal in conclusions, not opinions.

Gary says the Journal is for clients of GB, but anyone can subscribe. He’s the sole author and publishes every other Thursday. The current issue summarizes the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s recent analysis of eight state’s attempts to curb physician in-office dispensing and discusses the new term of the day, BoT – Burden of Treatment.

At the Insider, for years we’ve been doing something similar when Julie Ferguson posts her News Of Note, but we have no set schedule for that and don’t limit it to three items. Gary’s approach is different, but certainly worthwhile and effective.

I like what Gary is doing. It’s good for GB’s business, but it’s also good for the workers’ compensation community at large. If you’re not already a subscriber, I recommend you become one.