Tag Archives: Claims

Trouble Ahead for Workers’ Comp

The Denver Business Journal today published an article by Steve Doss, VP of Commercial Lines at CCIG.

Here are the key takeaways from Conning, a Connecticut-based investment management company for the insurance industry:

  • Accident frequency has increased. A stronger U.S. economy has meant more inexperienced workers have joined the workforce, so high-hazard occupations like transportation and construction have seen increases in work-related injuries since 2012. For example, non-fatal work-related construction injuries jumped 9.5 percent from 2012 to 2013. Also, as older employees work longer, the number of accidents among those 65 and older rose 18.5 percent from 2012 to 2013.
  • Accident severity is rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that construction fatalities rose 5.6 percent from 2013 to 2015, and manufacturing fatalities rose 9.3 percent from 2013 to 2014. In addition, hospital and drug costs – the biggest expenses associated with workers’ compensation claims – are rising faster than inflation.
  • Evidence of cost-shifting. The Affordable Care Act may be driving physicians and hospitals to “leak” group health cases into the workers’ compensation system, where they can charge more for the same services than under a group health contract, according to Conning.

For those of you not familiar with workers’ compensation, and those of you who are, what each of the bullet points mean, in simple terms is this:

  • More accidents,
  • Degree of accident injury increasing and,
  • Cost-shifting is occurring.

Isn’t time to stop and realize that whatever programs are implemented, whatever analytical or predictive modeling techniques are utilized, whatever the so-called “experts” say is the cause of this or that problem, whatever so-called “reform” or work comp alternative is attempted, wouldn’t it be prudent to think outside the box, and outside the borders of your limited minds?

Schopenhauer said the following:

“Every man takes the limits of his field of vision for the limits of the world”

Those of you who will not listen to other ideas, no matter how far-fetched they may be, have limited your field of vision and taken them as the limit of the world. The world is globalizing, health care included.

Aerospace technology will very soon allow us to travel to any part of the world in under four hours. Don’t believe me? Ask Boeing why they are running commercials that tout that very same possibility.

Those who cite judges as saying no to medical travel must ask yourselves this question: Do doctors sentence people to death? (By that I mean execution, not natural death from disease or incompetence)

Those who say the laws won’t allow it, should know that laws can be changed, and laws written in the era of the horse and buggy should not dictate to the post-modern, jet-age, and soon-to-be sub-orbital space plane age. Would you like to live under the laws of Caesar or Charlemagne?

And finally, those who say the injured workers won’t go abroad to get better medical care, have you ever asked them, or are you just putting your words in their mouths?

Methinks you all doth protest a bit too much for the sake of injured workers and myself. Look in the mirror and ask yourselves why workers’ comp is failing. The answer is staring right back at you.

WCRI – Day One, Part One

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 s…

Source: WCRI – Day One, Part One

Trends and Issues in Workers’ Comp for 2016

From the ‘What’s happening now in workers’ comp’ department comes two articles written earlier this month by Jacquelyn Connelly in Independent Agent magazine.

The first, written on February 1, talks about new health care trends driving change for workers’ comp. The second, written a week later, deals with the top three regulatory issues to watch for in workers’ comp in 2016.

Let’s start with the first article.

As Ms. Connelly writes, medical now represents on average, 60% of the benefit dollar paid to injured workers, according to Peter Burton, senior division executive for state relations at NCCI (National Council on Compensation Insurance).

Burton said that, “if you went back 25 years ago, it would have been about 40%,” and he went on to say that, “medical is the largest component in most states of the benefit given to injured workers. If you looked at the amount of legislative pricing requested of NCCI during last year, the majority of the requests were medical-related.”

In my White Paper, I cited that “medical costs in 2008 were 58% of all total claims.”

One explanation Ms. Connelly gives is rising and shifting medical costs.  According to Donna Urben, vice president and workers’ compensation product manager at Erie Insurance, “the rise in medical costs, we’ve all seen it on typical health plans and we’ve also seen it on workers’ comp.” She goes further to say that, “what helps with the control of the increase in medical costs are those states that actually are able to direct medical care.”

Some state workers’ comp laws state that injured workers must go to panel physician established by the employer for a timeframe that is mandated by state guidelines, according to Ms. Urben.

If the injured workers receives medical care that fits the injury,” says Ms. Urben, “that ultimately gets them back to pre-injury status and enables them to return to work more quickly,”…”this explains why in some states that permit direction of care, employers are able to see a reduction in the claim cost on the medical claims side, versus those states that don’t permit direction of care, employers see a greater volatility in the medical costs from a workers’ compensation claim.

Another reason given by Ms. Connelly for the rise of medical costs is the duration of treatment.

Medical costs could also transform under the ACA, says Yvonne Hobson, vice president of corporate underwriting at Amerisure, and could cause some cost-shifting in workers’ comp insurance, by authorizing the use of capitation models that designate a set amount for each enrolled plan member, regardless of whether they take medical during that time.

This is not the first time we have seen this issue of cost-shifting and the ACA come up, as I and others have written about it last year.

Hobson explains that, “there are some injuries, such as soft tissue injures or back or knee or shoulder pain, where the cause of the injury isn’t readily apparent if it happened on the job or outside of work.” There is some discretion on the part of the doctors, Ms. Hobson states, when determining if the injury is work-related or not.

On the other hand, Matt Lyon, of Foremost Insurance Group, cited some predictions that the ACA could reduce the frequency of “Monday morning claims”, where someone gets hurt on the weekend, they don’t have health insurance, and come into work on Monday and file a workers’ comp claim, Ms. Connelly writes.

Mr. Lyon noted that some preliminary studies suggest a slight correlation between the ACA and a decline in fraudulent comp claims.

Ms. Hobson concurs, and stated that, “the challenge with cost-shifting is that the research and the data on it is new, so only time is going to be able to tell us how it’s going to ultimately be impacting workers’ compensation costs.

The final trend, Ms. Connelly mentions is the misuse and abuse of opioids and medical marijuana. I have discussed the opioid abuse issue before, so I will not go into that here, and the other trend is medical marijuana, as well as recreational use.

States such as Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have allowed recreational use, and 23 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana.

In her second article, Ms. Connelly identifies three regulatory issues. These issues are:

  1. Opt-out laws. Currently, as I have written about, opt-out is only in Texas and Oklahoma, but it was reported recently that the legislation in Tennessee has not passed this year, and maybe voted on again next year. Other states proposed for this legislation are Arkansas, North and South Carolina and West Virginia. The group behind the writing of this legislation is called “A-rock” (ARAWC).
  2. Reform efforts. Peter Burton, cited by Ms. Connelly in the last article, said that insurance agents need to be wary of the “attack on the exclusive remedy”. I have also written about this; yet, my research for this article has found that the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a right-wing, non-profit organization partly funded by the Castor and Pollux of right-wing, libertarianism, the Koch Brothers has drawn up a bill defending exclusive remedy, which I find puzzling, because I would have thought that they would want to let workers try to sue their employers, which is what happened before the enactment of workers’ comp laws.
  3. Independent contractor classification. The Department of Labor’s Administrator’s interpretation sought to classify most independent contractors as employees.

What does this mean?

For workers’ comp, it means that there are challenges ahead that the industry needs to be aware of, but it also means that business as usual will no longer suffice, nor will doing the same things over and over again, and expecting different results.

As we have seen in Ms. Connelly’s first article, medical costs are rising for workers’ comp claims. She does not mention whether or not this includes expensive surgeries, or is just confined to the immediate treatment of the injury and the subsequent process of returning the injured worker to their pre-injury state.

Some employers have seen reductions in medical costs, but overall, the medical costs keep rising, as evidenced by my White Paper that stated that in 2008, the percentage was 58%. Two percentage points in seven years.

Obviously, something or some things are not working. But as long as the industry ignores alternatives, as long as some people suggest that judges won’t order surgery out of the country (do doctors order executions, I wonder?), as long as these same individuals believe that no injured workers (especially Latino workers) will want to or will accept going abroad for surgery, and as long as the “old men” of the industry cling to xenophobia, racism and American Exceptionalism, holding back the workers’ compensation industry from joining the globalization of health care, comp included, then nothing will change, and costs will continue to rise.

Lastly, it is state laws themselves that need to be changed, modified or outright discarded so that employers across the country can realize huge cost savings in their medical claim costs, when their employees need surgery.

To say this will never happen is like saying Man will never fly, go to the Moon, or any of a thousand other “impossible” things we humans have accomplished. Are you saying that going to the Moon or flying is easier than going to another country to get surgery? Or are you just being xenophobic, racist, and delusional that American health care is the best?

You decide, but while you do, the meter is running on medical costs, and the other issues, such as opt-out, reform and job classification are making workers’ comp challenging now and for the future. But it does not have to be that way.

Medical Management Internship Paper, Summer 2011

No doubt, many of my readers have wondered what I learned in my MHA degree program, and why my writing has been of interest to so many of you.

Upon checking my stats for the blog, I noticed that someone had viewed a paper I wrote in the summer of 2011 for my Summer Internship course, as part of my MHA degree program requirements. The school I attended required all students without a health care background to take a one-credit course as an Intern in a health care organization.

The organization I choose was one my school already contracted with, Broadspire. At the end of the course, we were expected to write a paper about our internship for a grade in the course.

The following link will direct the reader to a copy of my paper that I hope the reader will find interesting, and will highlight my skills as a researcher and writer. Speaking engagements as well as research opportunities are most welcome, as are full-time positions and consulting opportunities.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/5573hm8xo074po0/Medical%20Management%20Internship%20Paper.docx?dl=0

As the summer session was very short, only three projects were undertaken, and the last one was truncated due to time constraints and the report presented to Broadspire concentrated on only two states, Florida and California.

Let me know your thoughts.

Employer Choice States See Lower Claim Costs

Introduction

When I started this blog three years ago, one of the first topics I covered was the issue of employee/employer choice of treating physician (see “Employee vs Employer Choice of Physician: How best to Incorporate Medical Tourism into Workers’ Compensation” and “Employee vs. Employer Choice of Physician Revisited: Additional Commentary on How Best to Incorporate Medical Tourism into Workers’ Compensation“).

Then in March of this year, ProPublica’s Michael Grabell and NPR’s Howard Berkes, wrote an article called, “The Demolition of Workers’ Compensation“, which was a first in of a series about the workers’ compensation system.

In the article, Grabell said that in 37 states, the worker cannot choose his doctor, or they are restricted to a list provided by their employer. This statement generated some concern from the industry.

My fellow blogger, Joe Paduda tried to get them to see both sides, but gave up the effort when it did not result in any discussion between them, as he wrote about the following day, calling the reporting a “public disservice”.

The next day, I wrote to Mr. Grabell, and told him that his facts were wrong. He told me in his response that he relied on data from the US Chamber of Commerce.

I told him that the WCRI and the state statutes were a more accurate source of information. My email thread covered eight messages that day. I provided him with the data I used in the articles cited above, and in the presentation I gave the previous November in Mexico.

Lower Costs When Doctor is Chosen By Employer

Business Insurance’s Stephanie Goldberg today reported on a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, that found that the average medical cost per work comp claim is lower in states where the employer chooses the worker’s initial treating physician.

Average medical costs were $308 lower in those states where the employer can choose the treating doctor for employees with low back pain, than in states where the workers were allowed to choose, Goldberg reported.

The study, sponsored by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, said that states limiting treating provider change had higher medical costs than states that allow a one-time change.

There was however, the study found, no significant difference in average medical costs between cases in states that limit initial change and states that don’t, according to Goldberg.

Employers participating in a managed care organization, preferred provider organization or coordinated care organization in states like California and Florida, are allowed to to direct care. States like Arizona and Massachusetts allow workers to chose their providers.

The study also found, that the average medical costs ranges from $1211 in New York to $4514 in Texas, and length of disability ranged from 19 days in Missouri to 69 days in Texas.

The study was compiled using more that 59,000 low back pain claims between 2002 and 2009 from 49 jurisdictions, including Washington, DC, and did not include North Dakota and Wyoming.

ACA May Shift Claims to Work Comp: A Rebuttal

Back in September, I wrote a post that said a study by the Workers’ Comp Research Institute (WCRI) indicated that the ACA may shift claims to workers’ comp.

Last week, the WCRI held a webinar, which I attended, and along with the presentation by outgoing WCRI President and CEO Rick Victor, my fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, gave an opposing view.

According to Joe, “it’s very hard to attribute case-shifting to ACA) based on what I see as a very complex and diverse health care world.”

The reasons for Joe’s skepticism can be based on the following assumptions those who are making the case for case-shifting have expressed:

  • HMOs are capitated
  • there are financial incentives e.g. capitation at the primary care level
  • primary care providers are aware of the financial implications of case assignment
  • PCPs purposely assign cases to work comp based on those financials the ACA will lead to more Accountable Care Organizations that will use capitation more

To get deeper into Joe’s perspective on case-shifting, click on the following link to his blog post:

http://www.joepaduda.com/2015/12/aca-work-comp-and-case-shifting-the-details/

Here are the slides from the webinar:

WCRI Webinar Impact of the ACA on Claim Shifting Slides 12.10.15

 

The Miasma of Fraud

One last post before you celebrate Thanksgiving.

Business Insurance’s Stephanie Goldberg reported today, that five people have been charged  with workers’ comp insurance fraud in California, and that the insurance commissioner called it, “one of the largest workers’ compensation insurance fraud cases we have ever seen.”

In July, 2014, I wrote two articles about fraud in California, “The Stench of Fraud: Why Workers’ Comp Can No Longer Be a Closed System” and “The Stench of Fraud, Continued.”

Charged in the case was the former CFO of Pacific Hospital, James L. Canedo, two orthopedic surgeons, a chiropractor, and Paul Richard Randall, a health care marketer.

They were charged with illegally referring more than 4,000 patients for spinal surgeries, and generated more that $580 million in fraudulent bills during an eight-year period, according to the US Department of Justice, in a statement released yesterday.

Many of the claims were paid by the California work comp system, the rest by the federal government.

Canedo and Randall have pled guilty, and the other three have agreed to plead guilty, and under the terms of their plea agreements, each defendant could face prison terms and be required to pay restitution to their victims.

The US Attorney’s office for the Central District of California said in a statement that Canedo faces 10 years in prison and at least $20 million in restitution.

The scheme consisted of kickbacks of $15,000 for each lumbar fusion surgery, and $10,000 for each cervical fusion surgery, according to the US Attorney’s statement.

The ongoing investigation, dubbed “Operation Spinal Cap”, discovered that some of the patients lived hundreds of miles away from Pacific Hospital, and closer to other qualified facilities, the patients were not informed that medical professionals were offered kickbacks for referrals, and that insurers had paid the hospital more than $226 million for the surgeries.

Once again, we see that workers’ comp, especially in California, but also in other states, is like a fetid pool of rotting vegetation and other foul matter, so that what was once called a stench, is now a miasma that hangs over the surface of the system.

It does not have to be like that. It can be better. You can find an alternative to expensive surgeries and illegal payoffs, if only you would consider new ideas and new possibilities.

Or you can continue to breathe in the foul air. The choice is yours.

 

 

 

California Work Comp: What a Mess!

Kevin Tremblay, V.P., National Accounts for SMS National Solutions in Altamonte Springs, Florida, and a connection of mine on LinkedIn, penned the following article about California work comp and liens.

Normally, I shy away from articles involving California work comp, but on one or two occasions have written articles about it that I feel fit the subject of this blog. This article is one of those, but is more about the mismanagement of one state’s work comp system, rather than the state of affairs of the entire system nationwide.

Here is Kevin’s article in full:

California Workers Compensation System – Liens, Waste and Medical Provider Billed Charges

The California workers’ compensation system is unique like no other state in the country. There are two distinct sides of the equation in California workers’ compensation, Applicant and Defense.

Applicant-The party, usually the claimant that opens a case at the local Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) office by filing an application for adjudication of claim.

Defense-The party, usually the employer or its insurance company opposing the claimant in a dispute over services and benefits.

Lien-A right or claim for payment against a workers’ compensation case. A lien claimant, such as a medical provider, can file a form with the local Workers Compensation Appeals Board to request payments of money owed in a workers’ compensation case.

OMFS-The official medical fee schedule is promulgated by the DWC, Department of workers Compensation administrative director under labor code section 5307.1 and can be found in section 9789.10 of title 8, California code of regulations. It is used for payment of medical services required to treat work related injuries and illnesses. The California Official Medical Fee Schedule is considered prima facie evidence of reasonableness.

A lien claimant has the burden of proving that any amount charged is reasonable, and a lien claimant must prove that there are “extraordinary circumstances” that justify a fee that exceeds the Official Medical Fee Schedule.

According to some recent reports, an expected 500,000 liens will be filed by treating medical providers in the California Workers Compensation system in 2015, costing employers and insurers an estimated $200 million dollars in loss adjustment expenses and delaying claims adjudication.

Some of these liens forces some employers or insurance companies to settle liens they may not be legally obligated to pay simply to settle and close the claim to avoid paying additional disability, administrative and legal costs. Emphasis here on, ‘forces

Some additional statistical findings reported by the DWC are:

  • Medical treatment liens account for more than 60 percent of the liens filed, and 80 percent of the dollars in dispute.
  • $1.5 billion per year is claimed in medical lien disputes after adjusting for amended lien files.
  • One-third of medical liens involve disputes over the application of the Official Medical Fee Schedule.
  • Authorization for treatment was in dispute in seven out of 10 medical liens surveyed.
  • Reasons treatment was not authorized were: 37 percent provider not authorized to treat (mostly out-of-network); 7 percent denied claims; 6 percent medical necessity of treatment rejected by utilization review; 1 percent contested body parts; 20 percent authorization status unknown or not stated.
  • The volume of liens filings is sensitive to procedural changes, such as the adoption or repeal of a $100 filing fee and the adoption of new filing procedures.
  • Up to 30 percent of medical liens are prematurely submitted before the time has elapsed for the claims administrator to pay or object to the provider’s bill.
  • Ten percent of medical liens are submitted on the date the service is provided.
  • Nearly one quarter of medical liens are filed more than two years after the last date of services for which payment is claimed, including 6 percent that are filed five or more years after the last date of services.

The report was based on information provided by the Division of Workers’ Compensation, and was an attempt to characterize the problem so policymakers can propose solutions to the lien problem.

Source: CHSWC/InsuranceJournal.com

The Lien System Game:

Bill ($5,000) – Paid ($1,000)-in accordance with OMFS

Fee to file the lien the claim in court by medical provider $150.00

Lien balance $4000

Demand: $3800

Offer: $2000

Negotiation continues

Collector says $3200 is the bottom line for him

Adjuster forced to pay and settle to avoid additional claim cost agreement at $3200

So while the DWC and legislators continue to sort over of resolve the issues of the lien process, what can adjuster’s implement to mitigate the process and reduce claims costs? The following strategies are a good place to start:

  • How much is the lien?
  • How much is the OMFS or reasonable value of the lien?
  • What are your lien defenses?
    • AOE/COE
    • MPN
    • OMFS or other fee schedules / IBR
    • Reasonableness & Necessity
    • UR / IMR
    • Other technical issues
  • What evidence do you have to support your position? Objection letters? MPN Notices?
  • Did you serve your evidence on the lien claimants and/or your counsel?
  • What are the probable economics of your decision to settle or fight?
  • How much are you willing to pay to settle or resolve the lien?
  • We paid per OMFS & DOS is after 1/1/13
  • You failed to request 2nd review within 90 days (LC 4603.2(e)(2))
  • You failed to request IBR within 30 days from 2nd review (LC 4603.6(a)
  • You are done. The Code says: “the bill shall be deemed satisfied and neither the employer nor the employee shall be liable for any further payments.”
  • Any appearance at the board on your lien will result in a petition for costs & sanctions! [LC 5811 & Valdez decision (en banc) (77 CCC 1113)]

The State of California has taken recent measures with the advent of SB863 and labor codes 9792.5.12 and 4903.1(b) regarding independent bill review process and tighter lien submission rules. California legislators need to continue to act and close the loop holes in existing laws to mitigate and eventually eliminate the magnitude of waste and abuse by certain medical providers that is currently taking place and plaguing the workers’ compensation system.

The lien process is certainly unique to the rest of the country’s state by state workers’ compensation system. So what is it? Unethical gaming of the system and adding tremendous unnecessary costs and clogging the California courts and workers’ compensation system, no question. Anything more, you decide…..

Challenges Facing Work Comp

In three weeks, members of the medical tourism industry will gather in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to attend the 6th Mexico Medical Tourism Congress.

You may recall that I was invited and attended the Congress last year, and was invited again this year. However, due to personal and financial reasons, I am not attending this year.

I am however, posting my PowerPoint presentation below for your viewing, with narration by yours truly. I hope you find it interesting and informative.

Challenges Facing Workers’ Comp (PowerPoint)

Challenges Facing Workers’ Comp (video)

 

Drug Costs Make Up Bulk of Work Comp Medical Costs [Infographic]

As reported today on PropertyCasualty360, medical services now contribute to more than 60% of Workers’ Comp claims, in part due to two cost drivers: physician dispensing and compounded drugs, according to Marsh.

While the industry continues to grapple with the cost drivers of physician dispensing and compounded drugs, it would be prudent also to tackle the rest of the medical services that are contributing to more than 60% of claims under workers’ comp.

Expensive surgeries are also another factor in this that no one is discussing, no one at least inside the industry itself. No wonder that medical services have reached that high a percentage.

Oh well, you can lead dumb horses to water, but you can’t make them drink, so let them keep doing the same things over and over again and hope to get different results.

Here is the infographic:

War on Drugs