Category Archives: Injured workers

Workers’ Comp Medical Benefits Represent More Than Half of Employer Costs

The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) recently issued its 20th annual report on Workers’ Compensation: Benefits, Coverage, and Costs. The study provides estimates of workers’ compensation payments—cash and medical—for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and federal programs providing workers’ compensation.

Much of the study, as reported today by Workers Comp Insider.com, deals with the decrease in benefits as a percentage of payroll, an issue outside the purview of this blog.

But I was intrigued by the graphic at the bottom, which stated that thirty-three states spent more than half their workers’ compensation benefits on medical costs for injured workers.

And the share of total costs of workers’ comp benefits that are medical costs rose from 1980 to 2015, from 29% to 50%.

WC Benefits

While the study does not provide any insight into what that 50% represents, it is conceivable to assume that a good part of it involves surgery to repair the injury the worker suffered.

So, if this study is right, then the only way to begin to bring down the medical costs in workers’ comp is to look at alternatives that as of yet have not been tried because of lack of will, or a belief that alternatives are not realistic, or because we still cling to the notion that our healthcare system is the best in the world. and no one else comes close.

As Puck said, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

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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.

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?

Travel Ban to Affect Physician Shortage: What Medical Travel Can Do

The following post, from fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, who has a guest post from former WCRI CEO, Dr. Rick Victor, states that the current political regime in Washington’s ban on travel from certain countries and ban on allowing a certain religious minority into the country will further exacerbate the already projected physician shortage that this writer had previously discussed in earlier posts on the subject.

Here is the link to Joe’s and Dr. Victor’s posts.

If there ever was a good enough reason for the implementation of medical travel into general health care, and into workers’ comp medical care, this is it.

Do you really want to see injured workers go without treatment or without needed surgeries because there aren’t enough US-born physicians and surgeons, because some narcissistic, egomaniacal, billionaire con artist has banned needed foreign-born physicians from entering the country?

Who knows? Maybe one of these doctors has a revolutionary new treatment or therapy that can bring relief to millions of Americans, or can cure a terrible disease?

Banning them only makes America weaker, not Great Again.

P.S. Here is a follow-up post from Peter Rousmaniere’s Working Immigrants blog.

 

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.

Arkansas Next in Line to Drink the Kool-Aid on Opt-Out

As follow up to my post yesterday about Texas’ opt-out system and other states, here is a link to another article in Business Insurance that says neighboring state, Arkansas is considering a bill to allow their employers to opt-out of the state system.

You would think given Oklahoma’s experience next door, that Arkansas would not follow suit and pass such a bill, but you would be wrong.

They are first in line to drink the kool-aid. Or is is poison?

For injured workers sake in the Clinton home state, it would be like drinking poison.

Opt-out: The Thing That Will Not Die

An article in today’s Business Insurance magazine, Texas comp opt-out model could spread to other states: Report, said that the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free enterprise research and advocacy group, released a report that analyzed the Texas nonsubscription system, and said the other states may try to emulate the model.

Folks, we’ve been down this road before as I wrote last August.

The report is called, “The Lone Star Model for Helping Injured Workers,” [really?] says that the competition between the state’s system and the nonsubscription system has led to improved claims handling, cost control and better return-to-work rates.

I have no way of knowing if this is true, but if it is, then how come no other state is following suit? Could it be that it doesn’t do what they say it does?

The report also says that 78% of Texas employers, who represent 82% of the state’s private-sector employers are covered by the state system, and five percent of employees are not covered by workers’ comp or an alternative system. This was reported in my earlier posts.

In previous posts, I have said that there are unanswered questions as to how well injured workers would be treated, and I have also said that opt-out is just a way to tear down the entire workers’ compensation system nationwide.

Even the late David De Paolo wrote that the comp industry should not drink the kool-aid on opt-out.

And given the fact that the Oklahoma law was declared unconstitutional, and the other states that were considering it have pulled the legislation back, means that opt-out is not what its defenders claim it to be.

ARAWC, the organization behind much of the legislation has not been successful in getting other states to follow Texas’ lead.

Why is that?

It is because no one wants to go back to the 19th century where workers were without any protections and had to go to court to get any sort of benefits should they be injured on the job.

The Oklahoma law proves that it just does not have the welfare of the injured worker in its best interest, and that opt-out is only a means by which an employer can get away without any liability or responsibility for taking care of the worker.

Taking back the country before the Socialists took over is a powerful, right-wing talking point and meme, but no way to move a technologically advanced country forward into the 21st century.