Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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.

 

2016 White Paper Evaluates Commonwealth Care Alliance

Monday, July 18th, 2016

In April, 2016, I authored a post about Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), a Massachusetts HMO dedicated to serving the Dual Eligible population. Duals qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, and CCA has been the nation’s incubator for how to do that. The Boston-based HMO operates a Senior Care Option plan for Duals over the age of 65 and an Affordable Care Act demonstration project, called One Care, for Duals younger than 65. I’ve been a CCA Director since its inception in late 2003.

Now, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, JSI Research & Training, Inc., has published an extensive evaluation of CCA’s visionary and groundbreaking efforts to treat the nation’s sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor.

In JSI’s words:

The provisions in the ACA were designed to achieve the Institute of Health Improvement’s Triple Aim of improving patient experience of care and the health of populations while reducing the overall cost of health care.

The 22-page White Paper’s thrust centers around CCA’s “Social ACO” model of care. JSI describes the Social ACO approach this way:

These approaches are based on the idea that improving health and cost outcomes of vulnerable populations will necessitate incorporating health, behavioral health, and social services into the ACO model. Social ACOs serve populations with complex and often unmet social and economic needs that impact health outcomes and health system utilization, including needs related to housing, food security and nutrition, legal assistance, employment support, and/or enrollment assistance.

As I noted in April, Duals represent only 4% of the nation’s population, but consume 34% of its health care dollars. They present a societal problem begging for a solution. The Affordable Care Act offers revolutionary innovators like CCA the chance to prove their worth. So far, as the JSI paper suggests, CCA’s approach is spot on. Here’s JSI’s conclusion:

As a pioneer of the social ACO approach, its (CCA’s) story offers insights into the factors and processes that promote successful realization of the Triple Aim for other emerging ACOs focused on complex patient populations.

Payment and delivery reform promises to transform care for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. This is needed more than ever given rising healthcare costs and continued fragmentation of the care system. CCA’s social ACO model represents one approach to caring for some of the highest risk populations, though even this approach has had to be adapted extensively for the dual-eligible population under 65. Given its longevity of refining a care model, a global capitation payment model and a culture of innovation to care for high-risk, vulnerable populations, CCA’s experience is relevant to any provider organization seeking to transform care for high-risk populations.

Achieving the Triple Aim of improving the health of America’s dual population while lowering the cost of doing so is a rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick of the first order, but, at least to this point, Commonwealth Care Alliance seems to be onto something that will do just that.

One final thought: On the eve of our two presidential conventions, it would be nice if, at some point in all the bloviation, a cogent discussion regarding health care were to be had. And I’m talking about something other than, “On Day 1 we’re going to repeal Obamacare.”

But I wouldn’t bet on that happening. Would you?

In Oklahoma, The Times, They Are A’Changin’

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

In Oklahoma, we are now witness to a confluence of events, unintended consequences of perhaps misguided political and business decisions, that are shakin’ the windows and rattlin’ the walls, to paraphrase the great Bob Dylan. And I’m talking actual and metaphorical.

On the actual side, consider this. Prior to 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes a year of a magnitude greater than 3.0. Last year, there were more than two a day. Cornell University Seismologists studying this say the rise in earthquakes is unprecedented in terms of sheer volume as well as in how fast the number grew. A 60 Minutes investigation revealed that Oklahoma’s biggest industry, Oil and Gas production, is the likely culprit. Why? Because when oil is pumped out of the ground, wastewater comes with it. A lot of wastewater. Billion of gallons of the stuff. So, rather than put the state under water, industry pumps all that wastewater back deep into the ground where it seeps into and around the faults and techtonic plates causing plate shifting which results in all the earthquakes.

A 2015 earthquake study from Stanford University reported:

“Stanford geophysicists have identified the triggering mechanism responsible for the recent spike of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma – a crucial first step in eventually stopping them,” wrote Ker Than for the Stanford Review.

“In a new study published in the June 19 issue of the journal Science Advances, Stanford Professor Mark Zoback and doctoral student Rall Walsh show that the state’s rising number of earthquakes coincided with dramatic increases in the disposal of salty wastewater into the Arbuckle formation, a 7,000-foot-deep sedimentary formation under Oklahoma.”

As I write this, the U. S. Geological Survey reports a 3.8 magnitude quake hit about 28 miles northeast of Oklahoma City on Sunday. And for good measure, two other slightly less severe quakes struck within eight hours earlier than the 3.8 quake.

On the metaphorical side, a different kind of earthquake, a political one. And by that I mean the abrupt turnaround of Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallon and the Republican controlled legislature regarding adopting Obamacare. Seems the state is nearly bankrupt in terms of funding health care. Hospitals and nursing homes face closure. It is a crisis of monumental proportion. But wait – there’s the Obamacare cavalry coming over the crest of the hill! Politicians now realize that federal funding for Medicaid expansion (Governor Fallos says it’s not an “expansion;” it’s a “realignment.”) looks like a pretty good port in the storm. Naturally, critics are lining up to decry the move, but the legislature appears to be coming around to it.

Who knew? Perhaps when next I look out my 3rd story window pigs will be flying by.

The Sickest Of The Sick, The Poorest Of The Poor

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

They comprise less than 4% of the nation’s population, yet consume nearly 34% of health care dollars. Sixty percent are age 65 or older. About 40% are younger people with ADL-qualifying disabilities. More than half fall below the federal poverty level. Almost half never graduated high school. Nearly two-thirds are female. Fifty-eight percent are white/non-hispanics.

They are America’s “Dual Eligibles,” our fellow citizens who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid benefits. Technically, because they’re Duals, they are not the “uninsured.” Still, they sit smack dab in Obamacare’s bulls eye.

In 2003, here in Massachusetts, a pioneering visionary decided to create a non-profit HMO that would offer as its sole product a Senior Care Option plan aimed at the over-65 Dual population. As a former head of the Long-Term Care Division within the Commonwealth’s Medicaid Program, Mass Health, Dr. Bob Master knew a lot about the Duals and the many challenges they presented. Somehow, he convinced a few academics and business people to join his brand new Board of Directors for his Quixotic quest. I was one of them.

In the early days, the hunt for funding was all-consuming, but against considerable odds, funding was found, and, with the support of CMS and Mass Health, an incubator for the nation was born – Commonwealth Care Alliance.

Bob immediately set out to prove that Duals could achieve significantly better health and well-being at lower cost if they were cared for in a home-based regimen by highly trained teams of providers. And between 2003 and 2014, CCA produced eye-popping proof of concept results. For example, thirty-day hospital readmission rates for these sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor consistently beat Medicare’s overall rate. CCA achieved annual Medicare star ratings of 4.5 or better (Because of Senior Care Option demographics, it is statistically impossible for the company to achieve a higher rating).

CMS took note. And when medical, academic and political luminaries were crafting the Affordable Care Act, Bob was instrumental in convincing them Duals were a target not to be missed.

Consequently, the Affordable Care Act created demonstration projects in nine states from California to Massachusetts to see whether it’s possible to improve the health of all Duals, those over the age of 65 as well as under it, while reducing their health care costs. A tall order, indeed, because it had never been done before.

CMS and Mass Medicaid issued a humongously big RFP. Commonwealth Care Alliance answered it and won the right to play in the new sandbox, called One Care. The year 2014 was spent in preparing. For example, in order to be ready, the company had to double the size of staff (there are now more than 800) and train the newbies to successfully manage CCA’s unique model of care. That was not easy.

In early 2015, we opened the floodgates to the state’s thousands of Duals under the age of 65. Since then, it’s been a thrilling ride, because throughout 2015 CCA had a few near-death-experiences. But with the help of both CMS and Medicaid we were able to negotiate the potholes and speed-bumps, and now, after more than a few sleepless nights, the company cares for more than 17,000 Duals with Medicare and Medicaid premium of more than $850 million. In essence, CCA is beginning (barely) to do well by doing good. To my mind, if the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, does nothing more than significantly improve the lot in life of the nation’s Duals while lowering their cost of care, it will be a success of the first order.

Now, it’s time to turn the reins over to a new era of leadership. Last Friday, we had a retirement party for Bob Master where CCA employees who could free themselves from work for a couple of hours came to Boston to say hail and farewell. Many came on their own time. There was a great big cake and a lake-full of diet soda and coffee, but no dignitaries, just current staff and a number of Directors. The Chair of the Board said nice things about Bob and the ride we’d all been on. I described how, after all this time, Bob and I had discovered less than a year ago over lunch that, in addition to growing up in the next town to each other, we had been comrades in arms back in the late-60s in Vietnam; in the same Division, even, at the same time. Funny, that.

Many employees read stories they’d prepared for the occasion. Honest tears were shed. Bob gave an extemporaneous speech that was heartfelt and touching. He thanked all who had joined in the noble quest, many by name. Then he rode off into the sunset.

But the work goes on.

 

 

 

 

Some Final Thoughts Following WCRI’s Annual Conference

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

WCRI: Day One, Part Three: The 2nd Opt-Out Session

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Bruce Wood, of the American Insurance Association, led off the second Opt-Out session by reminding participants that the 1972 National Commission “considered and rejected employer or employee choice of benefit plans.” So, right away we knew where Mr. Wood was heading. He boarded the Trey Gillespie train and left the station smartly. His conclusions:

  • Opt-Out raises fundamental issues of public policy that policymakers have failed to consider;
  • Opt-Out lacks an organizing principle that reflects acceptable social policy; and,
  • Opt-Out is flawed and should not be enacted.

You know where Mr. Wood stands.

The second presenter was Elizabeth Bailey, VP of Workers’ Compensation & Safety for Waffle House, Inc. Waffle House, headquartered in Georgia,  is in a number of states, Texas being one of them. The company has been a Texas Non-Subscriber (it’s Opted-Out) since 2002, and, according to Ms. Bailey, has enjoyed spectacular results ever since. Such as:

  • Within one year, claims cost per restaurant dropped 57%;
  • Indemnity claims went from 15.03% of total claims to 3.23%;and,
  • Indemnity costs declined 99%

Wow!

Ms. Bailey described how Waffle House has increased its safety and health efforts while providing equivalent benefits as those required by the workers’ compensation statute. The company’s economic results are certainly stellar, but at what cost to employees? We were left wondering. However, as David Deitz pointed out in the question period, Ms. Bailey was the only Opt-out presenter who “presented” any data.

 

The third presenter, Alan Pierce, is a Massachusetts plaintiffs attorney, but that doesn’t begin to describe his standing in the legal community. He is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for injured workers and is the past chair of the Workers’ Compensation Section of the American Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bar Association. As expected, he offered an eloquent precis suggesting that workers’ compensation is not a benefit, but rather an employee right. He, too, cited the 1972 National Commission pointing out that most of its recommendations have never been adopted. Mr. Pierce is always interesting.

The last presented was Oklahoma Insurance Department Chief of Staff James Mills. I was somewhat surprised to hear him defend the Oklahoma Opt-Out statute. Essentially, Attorney Mills said that he was open to any program or law that might have the chance of benefiting both employers and employees and likened the statute, which had 57 legislative authors, to some other ideas that needed time to grow and prosper. Who knows? Maybe that’s what will happen to Opt-Out.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

WCRI: Day One, Part Two: The 1st Opt-Out Session

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

The afternoon of WCRI’s 2016 Annual Conference was devoted to Opt-Out. The first of two sessions was a Point-Counterpoint exercise. Trey Gillespie of the Property & Casualty Association of America led off. To Mr. Gillespie, with Opt-Out it’s 1910 all over again. He described Opt-Out in Texas and Oklahoma as allowing employers to deliver sub-standard care to injured workers without government oversight. Showing stark contrasts between what is allowed in Opt-Out and required in workers’ compensation, he suggested that employees were at the mercy of employers, which could sometimes be good and sometimes be bad. Opt-Out’s a kind of Employer Personal Responsibility Plan.

Bill Minick, of PartnerSource, followed with a presentation in favor of “Options to Workers’ Compensation.” Minick has been the loudest proponent and most significant advocate for Opt-Out. He and Opt-Out were the subject of a Propublica investigative journalism story late last year. He described Opt-out as a substantial improvement on a failed system and painted a picture of employers being able to provide better care for injured workers at less cost, because regulatory and bureaucratic requirements have been stripped out. Essentially, Minick claims that the workers’ compensation system makes employers go from Massachusetts to Rhode Island by way of Alex Swedlow’s California. He’d rather just drive the 30 miles down Route 95.

My basic problem with Opt-Out, wherever it is, is that some employers with resources and good intentions welcome the chance to design their own injury benefit plans that will provide benefits at least as good as traditional workers’ compensation at significantly less cost. This, in itself, is a good thing. Some large employers in Texas, such as Costco, seem to have done that. Trouble is, not every employer is Costco. As I wrote when I evaluated Opt-Out in 2014, I’m concerned about Kenny’s Citgo, down the street and around the corner, where Kenny and his five hourly workers labor without the benefits of a mandated workers’ compensation plan, because Kenny has Opted-Out. There are more Kenny’s than Costcos.

WCRI – Day One, Part One

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Day One of the WCRI’s annual conference began with WCRI’s Chairman, Vincent Armentano, of The Travelers Companies, introducing new President and CEO John Ruser. He presented the first session (preliminary finding, subject to change) on the Impact of Fee Schedules on Case Shifting in Workers’ Compensation.

It should come as no surprise that there is substantial variation in fee schedules and prices across the states and that workers’ comp fee schedules and costs continue to be higher than group health costs, in some states significantly higher. Bottom line here: States where workers comp pays higher medical reimbursements have a much greater chance of a soft tissue injury being classified as work-related. Not so much for traumatic injuries, such as fractures. In otherwords, states that have higher reimbursement for workers’ comp than group health have greater incidence of cost shifting to worker’s comp. Follow the money.

Next up, Dr. Bogdan Savych on comparing worker outcomes across fifteen states. Interesting news: Between 9% and 19% (median is 14%) of injured workers “had no substantial return to work” (meaning returning to work for at least 30 days) three years post-injury. These, again, are preliminary findings and subject to change, but 14% is a huge number. This study, based on 6,000 injured worker interviews, raises many questions. For example, what role do differing state workers’ comp benefits play in this. Also, Savych divided the workers into six age cohorts. The older group had more injuries without substantial return to work. What role did their age play in that?

Alex Swedlow, President of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, delivered a mesmerizing presentation on Independent Medical Review and Dispute Resolution in the state, which, if it were a country, would have the sixth highest GDP in the world. Not surprising, to quote Swedlow, “Size matters.” California’s been trying to control medical costs for decades, and it keeps trying. I can’t begin to cover the totality of  the Swedlow presentation, but here’s one takeaway: Ten percent  of California’s medical providers account for 85% of Independent Medical Review decisions. Again, follow the money.