Category Archives: Claims

Immigrants in construction — key facts « Working Immigrants

Peter Rousmaniere posted the following fact sheet about immigrants working in construction. While this has no bearing on health care at present, it does have some bearing on workers’ comp, especially in light of the current regime’s draconian policy towards immigrants from Central America.

As this “crisis” progresses, it may be harder for construction companies to find workers to employ on construction sites.

This, in turn would mean that they may be less construction work, and for the insurance industry, less risk and less profit to be made from insuring these projects.

In workers’ comp, that would translate into less frequency of losses, but it would also cut off revenue from carriers covering such risks.

And he promised to create jobs? Hardly.

Source: Immigrants in construction — key facts « Working Immigrants

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State of the Line Report — 2018 Edition

It’s May, and you know what that means. It means NCCI has held its Annual Issues Symposium, and the State of the Line Report, presented by Chief Actuary Kathy Antonello.

But this year I am going to do something a little different. I am going to compare the data presented this year with some of the data from last year and the year prior, so that the reader can see how much change there has been year over year from the 2017 and 2018 reports. Last year’s data and the year before was presented in my post, “Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 2.”

First up, this year’s WC Average Medical Lost-Time Claim Severity in Chart 1.

Chart 1.

As you can see, there has been another slight increase in the lost-time claim severity from the 2016 to 2017 preliminary data. In 2016, the average medical lost-time claim severity was $28,800 and the preliminary 2017 severity was $29,900, an increase of nearly $1,000.

The key takeaway here is that NCCI estimates that the AY 2017 average medical lost-time claim severity is 4% higher than the corresponding AY 2016 value.

Looking back at the data from last year’s report, we can compare the preliminary 2016 data with the actual 2016 data reported above. Chart 2 exhibits last year’s data.

Chart 2.

Source: NCCI’s Financial Call Data; p Preliminary based on data valued as of 12/31/2016.

In chart 2, the preliminary medical lost-time claim severity was $29,100 and represented a 5.0% change from 2015. In 2015, it was $27,700 and saw a -1.4% change from the prior year.

This is borne out in the next chart, Chart 3, where the 2015 average medical lost-time claim severity was estimated at $28,500, or a 1.0% change from 2014.

Chart 3.

 

Next, we look at the cumulative change in medical lost-time claim severity (1997-2017p), as highlighted in chart 4.

Chart 4.

In this chart, the cumulative change in medical lost-time claim severity is contrasted with the cumulative change in the Personal Health Care Chain-Weighted Price Index (1997-2017p). The PHC is a proxy for medical care price inflation that responds to changes in the blend of different medical services over time.

From the chart, the cumulative change in medical lost-time claim severity has strongly outpaced the change in the PHC index in that same period, indicating that while the PHC index is nearly flat, the medical lost-time claim severity is rising and will continue to do so.

According to NCCI, the medical lost-time claim costs have risen faster, +175% , than the PHC index of +61%, over the period from 1997-2017, with most of the gap occurring in the years before the recession.

However, looking at the data from last year’s report, as shown in chart 5, the cumulative change in medical lost-time claim severity was much higher, as estimated by NCCI, which was +227%.

Chart 5.

Sources: NCCI’s Financial Call Data; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ; p Preliminary based on data valued as of 12/31/2016.

The next chart, chart 6, compares the relative growth rates between medical severity and price inflation.

Chart 6.

On the left-hand side, the medical lost-time claim severity grew approximately 4.5% per year faster than the medical care prices for the same period.

On the right-hand side however, the change in the medical lost-time claim severity and the medical care price tracked one another in the same ten-year period. Yet, there is a slight rise in the medical lost-time claim severity after 2015 continuing into 2017.

The key takeaways as NCCI reported were that much of the gap between the cumulative changes in medical lost-time claim severity and the PHC index since 1997 arose from the years prior to 2007. And that both the severity and care prices have grown at approximately the same rate, as indicated above.

Lastly, the next chart, chart 7, indicates the average annual change from 2012 to 2016 for all NCCI states. Note: all states in grey are either monopolistic states or are intrastate-rated states that do not report data to NCCI.

Chart 7.

The state with the highest average annual change was Nevada, and the states with the lowest average annual change, were Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

The key takeaways here are that the average annual change in medical lost-time claim severity was +2.3% from the four years between 2012 and 2016. The increase in Nevada, NCCI stated, was due to a very large claim that occurred in 2016. The decrease in North Carolina was due to a combination of large claim activity in 2012 and a change in the medical fee schedule in 2013 and 2015.

But it is apparent that most states experienced a change at, or below 10% from 2012 to 2016. And if we are to believe that claim frequency is decreasing, then we must ask ourselves, why is the medical lost-time claim severity rising, as seen in chart 1, one hundred dollars short of $30,000.

One answer we have already examined is the cumulative change in medical lost-time claim severity from 1997 to 2017, although preliminary as of this week’s report.

However, what is not shown is what lies behind those numbers, i.e., what is happening in each claim to cause the severity to rise, or not rise. There is no indication, as there never is, as to what amount of the rise is due to the cost of surgery or to other claim factors such as hospital bills, ancillary services such as medical equipment, anesthesia services, any testing performed, etc. In short, we don’t know if what is causing health care costs generally to rise also is affecting the medical lost-time claim severity.

As I have stated before in this blog, workers’ compensation must look to other alternatives to help bring down the medical lost-time claim severity. This cannot be achieved by looking between all three coasts. It must include looking at less expensive, but equally advanced medical care elsewhere. Otherwise, the gap will only get wider over time.

 

 

 

 

New Study Concludes States with Employer Choice Have Higher Claim Costs

While scanning LinkedIn yesterday afternoon, I noticed someone had posted a link to an article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) early last month.

The abstract stated that the financial impact of choice of physician within workers’ compensation had not be well studied, and that the purpose of the article was to assess the difference in cost between employer and employee directed choice of physician.

As many of you will recall, this subject was one of the first topics I covered when I began my blog over five years ago.

The following articles are linked here for your review:

Employee vs Employer Choice of Physician: How best to Incorporate Medical Tourism into Workers’ Compensation

Employee vs. Employer Choice of Physician Revisited: Additional Commentary on How Best to Incorporate Medical Tourism into Workers’ Compensation

Employer Choice States See Lower Claim Costs

Follow-up to Employee/Employer Choice: Three Years Later

The authors, Tao, Leung, Kalia, Lavin, Yuspeh, Bernacki (2017) analyzed 35,640 indemnity lost time claims from a 13-year period at a nationwide company, using multivariate logistic regression to determine association of medical direction with high-cost of claims.

Tao et al. found that states that have employer-directed choice of physician have lower risk of having high cost claims, greater than or equal to, $50,000, but had higher attorney involvement compared to employee direction. Their results showed that the net effect of attorneys offset the benefits of employer choice.

This study may be in line with the WCRI study I cited in the article above, “Employer Choice States See Lower Claim Costs”, but because of higher attorney involvement, the benefits are negated.

They concluded that states that permit employer selection of treating physician have higher cost due to greater participation by attorneys in the claims process.

A Deeper Dive into Medical Cost Rising for Lost-Time Claims

It is said, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I have ten pictures, courtesy of NCCI’s Barry Lipton’s presentation on that subject.

It was brought to my attention by my fellow blogger, James Moore, of J&L Risk Management Consultants. I met James back in February at the NCCI 2017 Data Education Program in West Palm Beach.

Mr. Lipton is the Senior Actuary and Practice Leader, and his presentation was called, “Medical Cost Trends Then and Now.

Yesterday’s posts regarding the slight increase in the average medical costs for lost-time claims only scratched the surface of the subject. I hope this post will dive deeper into it, so that we can see the whole picture.

In my first post from yesterday, “Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 1”, I discussed how physician costs and prescription drug costs impacted medical costs for lost-time claims.

On the issue of physician costs, Mr. Lipton showed that there was a decline in the 2015 medical payments per claim due to physician costs, but as the following chart proves, despite this decline, physician costs contribute a larger share of the total costs.

Chart 1.

Chart 6.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

According to James, the main reason for the reduction in costs is the physician utilization per claim. Even though it is only a3% reduction, it is significant, James says, in a time of upward spiraling medical costs. Chart 2 bears this out.

Chart 2.

Chart 7.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

The second part of my post yesterday, “Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 2”, looked at the steady rise of the average medical cost for lost-time claim.

If we compare the chart from yesterday’s post to the one Mr. Lipton presented, we will see that his chart does show increases and decreases over time in the average medical costs per lost-time claim, but my chart indicates that ever since 1995, it has been rising steady.

Both charts, do show that the average medical cost per lost-time claim is hovering around $30,000, and if the numbers are consistent with ones for earlier years, represents almost 60% of the total claims cost.

My Chart.

Chart 2.

Chart 3.

Chart 4.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

To examine this in greater detail, Mr. Lipton broke down the Accident Years into three separate periods and slides, to show the change in medical cost per lost-time claim. He compared the change in Personal Health Care (PHC) Spending per Capita with the Medical Cost per Lost-Time Claim.

In the period, 1995-2002, the average growth rate (AGR) for WC was 9%, and the AGR for PHC was 6%. In the next period, 2002-2009, WC AGR was 6%; PHC AGR was 5%, and finally, in the last period, 2009-2015, the WC AGR was 1%, while the PHC AGR was 3%, as seen in chart 4.

Chart 4.

Chart 10.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

To understand what was driving the decline in Accident Year 2015, Mr. Lipton identified six different drivers, as indicated in chart 5.

Chart 5.

Chart 8.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

Finally, Mr. Lipton discussed how hospital costs contributed to medical cost per lost-time claims by highlighting the difference between inpatient and outpatient costs, which are rising.

The following chart looks at the four years prior to the 2016 Accident Year, 2012-2015.

Chart 6.

Chart 9.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

In 2012, Hospital Inpatient Paid per Stay amounted to $19,514, in 2013, it rose to $22,944 (18% increase), in 2014, it was $24,558, or a 7% increase, and last, in 2015, it was $25,320, or 3% increase over the previous year.

As for Hospital Outpatient Paid per Visit, the number are considerably lower for each year when compared to Inpatient Stays, but nonetheless have been rising.

So perhaps this, at the end is why the average medical cost per lost-time claim has been rising over a period of over twenty years, from 1995 to 2015.

I wrote to James last night when I saw his recent posts on this presentation, and he responded that we are both correct in our analysis, but looking at it from different points of view.

My conclusion after reading this presentation and my discussion with James suggests to me that there are two things going on here. One, when a worker is injured and receives medical care, unless and until he or she goes to a hospital, the best way to lower costs is through what James calls one of his six keys to reducing workers’ comp costs. One of those keys is medical control by the employer, which James said reduced cost by 75%.

But I also realized that when an injured worker goes to the ER or an Ambulatory Service Center as an Outpatient, has an Inpatient stay, that this is where the medical costs go up.

Naturally, Workers’ Comp medical spending is only a fraction of the overall health care spend of the US, and as costs for health care in general rise, so too does costs in workers’ comp.

So, while many have argued or shown that they can lower costs on the front end, from time of injury to return to work for most claims where no surgery is required, one of the largest reasons for the steady rise in the average medical cost per lost-time claims is hospital costs.

On this, both James and I agree. However, it is important that many in the industry see this as well. Keep thinking that it will change by doing this or that has not worked, the numbers prove that. Maybe it is time for something out of the box.

Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 2

Ever since I began my MHA degree, I have analyzed the average medical cost severity for lost-time workers’ comp claims.

The average medical costs for lost-time claims have been rising steadily for the past two decades and only recently had a negative change.

The data for average medical lost-time claims severity comes from all jurisdictions where NCCI provides ratemaking services. The data is valued as of 12/31/2005, and accident year 2016 is preliminary as of 12/31/2016.

NCCI estimated that Accident Year 2016 was 5% higher than the corresponding 2015 value, as seen in Chart 2.

Chart 2.

Chart 2.

Source: NCCI’s Financial Call Data p Preliminary based on data valued as of 12/31/2016.

Comparing the above chart with last year’s chart, you will notice that there is a difference of 0.4% for 2015.

Looking at both charts, it is easy to see that the average medical cost for lost-time claims is still going up, and is now closer to $30,000. The trendline has been increasing since 1991.

I have been advocating every year that doing the same things repeatedly, and expecting different results is not only crazy, it is not lowering the average medical cost for lost-time claims.

It is also apparent that the enactment of the ACA has not done much to lower the average; in fact, just the opposite.

avg-med-cost-2016

NCCI went further in analyzing average medical cost by examining the cumulative change in the Medical Lost-Time Claim Severity from 1995 – 2016, as indicated in Chart 3.

Chart 3.

Chart 3.

Sources: NCCI’s Financial Call Data; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services p Preliminary based on data valued as of 12/31/2016.

The growth in the corresponding Personal Health Care Chain-Weighted Price Index (PHC), a proxy for medical care price inflation that responds to changes in the blend of different medical services over time, varied from 2.6% in 1995 to 1.3% in 2016p.

The takeaways here are:

  • In the latest year, medical lost-time claim severity increased by 5%, compared with a 1.3% growth in the PHC.
  • In 2015, medical lost-time claim severity decreased by 1.4%and the PHC presented its lowest increase in years (0.5%).

When the changes in medical lost-time claim severity is compared to the change in the growth of the PHC index over three time periods, any change over and above the change in PHC is considered a change in the utilization of medical services.

Key takeaways:

  • From 1995 to 2001, PHC increased by about 16% and utilization of medical services increased 56.6% for an overall combined increase in medial lost-time claim severity of 72%.
  • Compared with the prior period, 2002 to 2008 saw a similar rate of increase in the PHC, but utilization slowed
  • In the most recent period, the change in utilization is almost nonexistent.

The key takeaways for the five previous years, 2011 – 2015 are:

  • The majority of the observed changes are increases, indicating that the average medical benefit level across most states was higher in 2015 than in 2011.
  • Mississippi’s relative higher average medical severity change is primarily the result of larger losses.
  • Virginia is in the process of developing a medical fee schedule, which may put downward pressure on that jurisdiction’s average medical lost-time claim severity.

What does this mean for you?

This is the eighth Annual State of the Line report I have examined, and from all the data I have seen in this period, the average medical cost for lost-time claims has never shown a marked decrease with all the various methods employed to lower costs so many in the industry have touted.

And while there have been cases where costs have gone down for individual employers and states; overall, this is not the case. Perhaps it is due to medical cost inflation, or perhaps to the cost of health care generally, but either way it is not getting better.

Washington State Workers’ Comp Accepts Foreign Medical Providers

Seven years ago, when I was working on my MHA degree, I wrote a paper which has become the basis of this blog.

During that time, I found the website of the Department of Labor & Industries for Washington State, and was surprised to find landing pages that listed physicians in Canada, Mexico, and other countries. These countries were mentioned in my paper, and I have referred to it in subsequent posts from time to time.

However, in the period since, I have noticed that the landing page for other countries was removed. I contacted WA state a while back and was told they were updating it. Yet, as of recently, it is still not been replaced, so I contacted them again yesterday.

I received a reply from Cheryl D’Angelo-Gary, Health Services Analyst at the WA Department of Labor & Industries. She indicated in her response that she is the business owner of the Find a Doctor application (FAD).

According to Ms. D’Angelo-Gary, “our experience showed that most of Washington’s injured workers who leave the country travel to one of these adjacent nations. Workers who travel further afield are advised to work with their claim manager to locate (or likely recruit) a provider. All worker comp claims with overseas mailing addresses are handled by a team of claim managers who have some extra training to help the worker find a qualified provider.”

I asked her to clarify this statement further in my next email by asking if this means that any claimant who travels outside of North America will have to ask the claims manager to find them a doctor.

She replied, “interesting questions!” She also differentiated between an injured worker who is traveling versus one who has relocated out of country.

She went on to say that, “a worker who is traveling and needs claim-related care would be instructed to seek treatment at an ER or urgent care clinic, where the providers do not need to be part of our network and would not be providing ongoing treatment. To be paid, the provider would have to send us a bill and a completed non-network application (available online). Under no circumstances should the provider bill the worker.”

However, she continued, “a worker who has relocated overseas must send in a change of address (required whenever a worker moves). That allows us to transfer management of the claim to a unit that specializes in out-of-country claims. The claim manager would work with the injured worker to help the worker find somebody in their new location. It’s critical (per state law) that the worker choose their own provider, though the provider must meet our requirements and standards of care. Proactive workers tend to handle this well, and find a provider in very little time; less proactive workers can find this challenging. We’re currently looking at this process to see how we can do this better.”

And in final emails to her last night, I tied the first scenario to medical travel, and the second scenario to ex-pats living abroad, but needing medical care. I also asked about workers who wanted to travel back to their home country for medical care, and said that I write about medical travel for workers’ comp.

As of today, I have not heard back, but it is early, and there is a three-hour difference between us.

It must be pointed out that WA state is what is termed a ‘monopolistic state’ in that the state does all the work of handling workers’ comp insurance and claims. Thus, when Ms. D’Angelo-Gary says that worker must work with the claim manager, the claim manager in question is a state employee, and not an employee of a commercial insurance company.

It may be possible, therefore, for medical travel to be implemented in workers’ comp, and it should be something that the medical travel industry and the state should explore together. Ms. D’Angelo-Gary did say they were looking at this process to do better. What better way to improve the process then by utilizing medical travel?

ARAWC Strikes Again: Opt-out Rolls On

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

Michael Corleone, Godfather, Part III

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/Mamzeltt/famous-movie-quotes/

When Michael confronts Connie and Neri in the kitchen of his townhouse, he warns them to never give an order to kill someone again (in this case, it was Joey Zaza), and goes on to state that when he thought he had left the mob lifestyle, they pull him back.

Thus, is the case with opt-out, as I discussed in my last post on the subject.

Kristen Beckman, in today’s Business Insurance, reminds us that opt-out, like the Mob, is pulling us back into the conversation.

As I reported last time, a bill in Arkansas, Senate Bill 653, pending in that state’s legislature’s Insurance & Commerce Committee since the beginning of March, proposes an alternative to the state system.

Ms. Beckman quotes Fred C. Bosse (not Fred C. Dobbs), the southwest region vice president of the American Insurance Association (AIA), who said that the bill is an attempt to keep the workers comp opt-out conversation going.

Mr. Bosse said that the AIA takes these bills seriously (good for them) and engages legislators to dissuade progress of such legislation the AIA believes could create an unequal benefit system for employees. (They haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid either)

Arkansas’ bill is the only legislation currently under consideration, but a state Rep in Florida, Cord Byrd (there’s a name for you), a Republican (it figures) from Jacksonville Beach, promoted legislation last year, but never filed it.

South Carolina and Tennessee, where bills were previously introduced within the past two years has gone nowhere.

And once again ARAWC rears its ugly head. For those of you unfamiliar with ARAWC, or the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation, it is a right-wing lobbying and legislation writing group based in Reston, Virginia. (see several other posts on ARAWC on this blog)

A statement ARAWC sent to BI said that these bills are beginning to pop up organically to model benefits that companies have seen from Texas’ non-subscription model. (Organically? That’s like saying mushroom clouds organically popped up over Hiroshima and Nagasaki)

Here’s a laugh for you, straight from the ARAWC statement:

Outcomes and benefits for injured workers have improved, employers are more competitive when costs are contained and taxpayers are well served by market-driven solutions,” They further said, “We recognize that each state is different and that the discussions at the state level will involve varied opinions.”

Of course, we cannot really know if injured workers are benefitting, or just being denied their rights, and it seems that opt-out is only to help employers and taxpayers get out of their responsibility to those who sustain serious injuries while employed.

In another post, the notion that Texas’ system could serve as a model for other states was outlined in a report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (don’t you just love the names of these reactionary groups?)

Bill Minick, president of PartnerSource, praised the report, according to Ms. Beckman, and said that competition has driven down insurance premium rates and improved benefits for Texas workers. (That’s what he says, but is any of it true, I wonder? I doubt it.)

ARAWC has listed a laundry list of benefits they say responsible alternative comp laws could provide:

  • Better wage replacement
  • Reduced overall employer costs
  • Faster return to work
  • Fewer claims disputes (yeah, because they would be denied)
  • Faster claim payouts
  • Faster closure (well, when you deny claims, they can be closed faster, duh!)

It is good to know that the AIA is critical of the report, and that in their opinion, it is unworkable to allow employers to adopt a separate, but unequal system of employee benefits.

And as we have seen with the defeat of the AHCA, leaving a government-sponsored program up to market-driven forces is a recipe for disaster that should not be repeated in workers’ comp, no matter what flavor the Kool-Aid comes in.