WCRI 2017 – California’s outcomes post reform, and plans for the next round of reform

One last post on last week’s excellent WCRI conference; Alex Swedlow CEO of CWCI provided a brief but information-rich profile of California – an Altered State.

The good news…

  • Medical trend has flattened
  • Fewer spine surgeries
  • Fewer Opioid scripts
  • $1.3 billion in system wide savings

One problem that seems almost specific to California – cumulative trauma claims. These claims are particularly problematic in the LA county area – and are outliers in terms of disability duration, cost, indemnity payments.  Moreover, cumulative injury cost are driven by LA county AND attorney involvement.

Medical treatment costs have been essentially flat for five years – due in large part to adoption of an RBRVS-based fee schedule.

The FBI’s involvement in tracking down miscreants in the spinal surgery industry may have been helpful in reducing overutilization of that much-criticized procedure.

Opioid spend has declined for the 5th consecutive year – kudos to the work comp PBM and payers who’ve done this. There’s also been a 26% decrease in cumulative MED over the first two years of the average claim.

This is very good news.

But, as Alex noted, we’ve only moved from the disastrous to the miserable, as opioid use is still far too high.

Overall, while a reduction of 8 percent in medical trend is welcome news, this happened before in the previous attempt to reform California work comp.  After an initial similar reduction, costs zoomed up, necessitating more reform.  So, while Alex is hopeful that trends are positive, he is wary indeed.

A few more key data points

Loss Adjustment Expense is just about equal to indemnity payments and is the highest across almost any comparison group.  And, this expense load has increased dramatically over the last couple of years. Medical cost containment expenses are a big part of this; the data presented was preliminary and thus can’t be cited yet but suffice it to say that costs account for a huge portion of overall medical expense.

Drugs

Rx spend accounts for 12.4% of medical spend but average expense for first 24 months after a claim is incurred is just under $2000 – this has decreased over the last few years.

A formulary is in the offing and it looks like the go-live date of July 1 2017 will happen. While the intent is to improve care and reduce cost, there will have to be strict enforcement for the hoped-for results to actually become real. One of the key issues unresolved is the formulary doesn’t address the difference in the price per pill of identical drugs – the variation can be wide indeed. This is an area that regulators have been focused on, yet none of the current solutions – change in fee schedule or adoption of a formulary – has addressed.

IMR and UR

Only 4.3 percent of medical care sought by treating providers was modified or denied, refuting claims made by other media outlets that there was wholesale rejection and denial of needed care thru the IMR process. Fortunately 99.4% of compound drug rejections were upheld – and over 90% of opioid denials.

What does this mean for you?

Things are getting better in California, but some of the “solutions” offered by regulators are misguided and will actually increase frictional costs. I’m going to dive into this in a post next week.

One thought on “WCRI 2017 – California’s outcomes post reform, and plans for the next round of reform

  1. Well said. The problem is that the continued and current state of legislative “fixes” are still band aids. On the CT issue, a simple but not popular fix with CAAA and Labor would be to move CT claims from LC 5412 back over to LC 5411. Simple fix but it will be a blood battle to get it done.,…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *