Experts Discuss 2017 Workers’ Comp Trends

06.21.2017


By Angela Underwood

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) - The only thing that stays the same is that everything is constantly changing.

As trends come and go, workers’ compensation experts discuss in detail with WorkersCompensation.com what drives the Grand Bargain, at almost one hundred years since its formation. This is not National Council of Compensation Insurance (NCCI) Senior Division Executive Peter Burton’s first rodeo when it comes to observing what is hot and what is not.

The former supervisor of the Underwriting Department, and Director of the New England Region for the Government in the Consumer and Industry Affairs Division, Burton has been with NCCI since 1974, and has watched trends dominate the industry.  

“This year's legislative volume uptick was due to pent up energy following the 2016 national election,” Burton said, noting much of the activity is due in part to the present election year and legislators fighting for major issues. “The number one proposal by volume this year that we have been looking at is firefighter first responder presumption, be it cancers, mental stress or PTSD, and all those things that those occupations have to face on a daily basis.”

Burton said since the initial workers’ compensation agrarian economy turned manufacturing to the present day tilted service economy, NCCI remains on top of the constant change. “One of our basic themes (at) our annual meeting a couple of weeks ago was that you have to be relevant and adapt to change,” he said.

Director of Safety & Health - Risk Management Advisor Mike Benishek with DiMare Fresh, Inc., out of Florida, said changes in technology are always good. It shows you what works, what does not work and what needs some more “tweaking."

“In 1984 I was lugging around a sewing machine sized 'tote-able' Compaq computer all around the country, all 22 pounds of it. Yes, it fit under the seat in the airplane…..but left no room for your legs. It had 512K of memory. Now I use a Samsung cell phone that fits in my pocket and it has 64 Gigs of memory, and it does way more than the Compaq did,” Benishek said, adding the world is always evolving with trends changing and risk exposures varying. “Risk managers have to stay on the front line and be proactive. If you lag behind, your position changes to one of being reactive, which is not a very good strategic position to be in.”

The present and future trends in technology is what is driving the industry forward, according to workers' compensation expert Peter Rousmaniere, who said the path to better work safety appears to include smart targeting and the smart use of technology that will lessen the risk of serious injuries and fatalities.

"Risks that impose really serious and even fatal injuries have not declined as much, according to a 2015 article by Martin and Black in Professional Safety magazine," Rousmaniere said. Burton also said NCCI closely monitors legislation.

One fatal trend on the rise is opioid addiction among injured workers, according to Benishek. “Without a doubt, opioid addiction is number one,” he said, adding, “it is a severe problem that was not caused by the injured worker, then gets compounded by physician dispensing.”

Like Rousmaniere, Benishek said technology is second to opioid abuse. He said presently, “the currently fashionable ‘buzz words’ floating around the WC world,” include  “Big Data” and “Data Analytics.” 

“This ties back in with changes in technology. However, one has to stand back, peer through the smoke and mirrors, and look for the quality of the data rather than being impressed by massive quantities of data. Remember the old computer saying, ‘Garbage In equals Garbage Out.’”

Trends or no trends, Burton said NCCI’s core competency “is the price of legislation and how to analyze legislation so leaders in legislature can make a sound business decision,” in workers’ compensation matters.

Bob Wilson, CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, is constantly discussing news and trends in his blog.

When asked about his expert point of view on trends, Wilson said this year has been a very active year in statehouses. “2017 was a year where numerous state legislatures were having to face serious challenges from 2016 court decisions dramatically affecting their systems. It seems the reform efforts undertaken in many states are going to fall drastically short of expectations. There has been a dramatic lack of imagination and effective ideas emerging in the legislative process this year,” Wilson said.

Joe Paduda, industry expert with Health Strategy Associates LLC., said while total paid premiums have increased, in most states the rate employers are paying has dropped over the last few years with New York, California, Colorado, and Maine seeing the most decrease. 

“The rate decrease is driving systemic changes in the work comp insurance industry. As insurers see a future marked by long-term and structural premium declines, they are reducing overhead, farming out core functions such as claims, and seeking to cut costs wherever possible,” said Paduda, adding with pharma costs declining 11 percent over the last six years, the issue is not the direct cost of drugs, it is the type and volume of drugs, and how those drugs affect disability. 

“With hundreds of thousands of workers’ comp patients addicted to or dependent on opioids, the financial cost of poor prescribing is in indemnity payments. Of course, the human and societal cost is much steeper,” Paduda said.

Paduda also said his biggest concern is the de-emphasis of occupational safety and health by the Trump administration. However, if Paduda’s concerns do come true, NCCI will remain ready. “We are a resource if necessary when legislator(s) want some data,” Burton said, adding NCCI has an external workforce. “We are out in the field, meeting with the legislators, meeting with the insurance departments, the work comp commissions and the business community. We are really plugged in at the ground level.”

Burton said while gathering information, NCCI also runs State Advisory Forums that gather officials in “a room and talk about workers’ compensation issues germane to that state.” Whether it is constantly monitoring legislation or attending parties to celebrate the Grand Bargain 100-year anniversary that he has attended, Burton said change will remain and NCCI will unceasingly adapt since success depends on it.

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This article was updated as of 06/13/17.

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