How much does employer misclassification cost you?

“Independent contractors” who are told what to wear, when they’ll work, what they’ll do, and how they’ll do it are NOT independent contractors.

At least, not under the law.

But a lot of employers are skirting the law, and some are committing outright fraud. The good news is some states are starting make major progress.

WorkCompCentral’s Todd Foster has a great investigative piece in this morning’s edition detailing the progress made in North Carolina by the Industrial Commission.

This isn’t pennies, folks – this fraud cost North Carolina and the US $467 million just in lost tax revenue.

It also

  • reduced workers’ comp premiums,
  • hurt local hospitals and healthcare providers who had to provide care to injured workers with no insurance,
  • likely bankrupted workers who weren’t able to work due to their injuries and were billed for medical care, and
  • drove up costs for the legitimate businesses in NC who weren’t committing fraud.

According to investigative reporting by the McClatchy news organization,

if the level of misclassification found on 64 government-backed housing developments extends to the construction industry as a whole in North Carolina, the state and federal government are losing $467 million a year in taxes. That’s roughly the size of the budget shortfall legislators initially faced this year as they tried to find ways to give raises to public-school teachers.

The construction industry is rife with this practice, unscrupulous contractors underbidding responsible competitors by avoiding workers’ comp premiums, taxes, and labor regulations. The McClatchy investigation found construction misclassification happens on up to 40% of job sites.; the worst states tend to be in the South, where legislation has stalled in several legislative sessions.

There have been some efforts both nationally and in individual states to address this crime, but reports are it is still rampant – on smaller projects and even on federal worksites, municipal projects, huge construction sites including highways, sewer plants, schools and airports.

A lot more information is here.

What does this mean for you?

If you are a work comp insurer, service company, TPA, construction worker or legitimate contractor, you’re getting screwed by these crooks.

Sharing risk – a new approach to ancillary services

Priority Care Solutions just introduced a new take on ancillary services, one involving risk sharing between the payer and PCS.  

It allows the payer  – insurer or self insured employer – to set their “budget” for specific services going forward, giving the payer a stable, predictable cost.

Here’s how it works.

PCS and the payer analyze several years of claims data, assessing spend by ancillary area – say imaging and durable medical equipment. Changes in employment levels are factored in, outlier claims – typically catastrophic claims – are excluded, and a “loss pick” range (my words, not theirs) for the specific ancillary benefits are agreed upon.

The loss pick is a total cost, not a per-claim dollar amount.  If costs come in below the loss pick, everyone is happy. If costs are above the loss pick, PCS is on the hook and has to transfer funds to the payer.

There’s a bit more to it than that, but you get the idea.

To date, PCS has several payers participating in the program, most of which are self-insured employers. Not surprising, as employers and their risk managers love cost certainty.

While we’ve seen other forms of risk share in workers’ comp services, this is the first that addresses an entire spend for a type of service.  Paradigm has taken risk on a per-claim business for decades, although it has diversified in recent years to provide a broader array of claim management services.

PCS provides a pretty broad array of ancillary services, and it will be interesting to see how this goes. CEO Bob Smith is well respected and well known throughout the industry, and PCS has quietly grown by staying under the radar for some time.

Thats about to change.

Healthcare reform – the HWR report

Steve Anderson at hosts this month’s Health Wonk Review – and what a month it is.

If you want insights from people who REALLY understand what’s happening – from across the political spectrum – this is the go-to.

Among the posts are Charles Gaba’s view of Congress’ screwups at  Trump, Ryan, McConnell & Price will owe my family $2,000 next year. Pay up, jerkweeds. Title pretty much says it all..

Louise Norris’ How Would the BCRA Impact Deductibles and Out-of-Pocket Costs? tells us why the Better Care Reconciliation Act is a double whammy..

And A Tale of Two Health Systems, Kelley Beloff, a medical office manager, offers her insights about two healthcare systems, and two very different outcomes.

Lots more – thanks to Steve!

Innovation in work comp – part 2

Yes, there is some “innovation” in workers’ comp – but none that’s “disruptive.”

Not yet.

and it’s because too many of us are like the hitter below.

After yesterday’s post, I received a slew of emails from folks detailing their innovative approaches/systems/applications, some of which are noted below. I much appreciate this.

That said, I would suggest that while to the folks involved their efforts may seem innovative, that innovation is limited to a pretty narrow segment of the work comp world. What is missing is disruptive innovation – game changing, real disruption.

Think smartphones – they’ve totally changed how we communicate, drive, get information, use telecommunications.

Here is an example of what I see as truly significant innovation.  Next week I’ll be digging into a couple more.


Make no mistake, the combination of broadband, smartphones, and new programming languages will disrupt how healthcare is delivered, managed, and reimbursed. For workers’ comp, this goes well beyond telemedicine – doctor visits enabled by the internet. Here are just a few ways “telepresence” will be used in workers’ comp,,,

  • Tele-triage, with the triage nurse interviewing the patient, observing the accident site, and using professional judgment enhanced by artificial intelligence to recommend next steps
  • Follow-up doctor visits delivered via telemedicine, enabling script re-fills, monitoring of functionality improvement, and eliminating travel and out-of-work time and expense
  • “Tele-presence” case management – think a hybrid between telephonic and field, without the windshield time but with the real nurse-to-patient-to-provider-to-employer face-to-face interaction.

And all interactions are recorded, stored, indexed, and available to all parties instantly. Adjusters get notified instantly of potential issues, don’t have to wait for email downloads, or wonder if an “office visit” happened, or try to figure out on their own if the patient is “compliant”.

Think about this – workers’ comp is a declining industry – injury rates have dropped about 60% over the last 25 years – and will continue to drop. Whether you’re a bill review company, case management firm, occupational medicine provider, or TPA, you’re going to be fighting over a slice of a smaller and smaller pie.

A provider network can get into the care delivery business, gaining top line revenue by actually providing “office visits.”

A case management firm can deliver more value and gain revenue – with higher margins, across a broader spectrum of services. Directing patients to specific (affiliated or contracted) providers, documenting same, and actually providing that initial physician’s evaluation via telemedicine. More revenue, stronger ties to customers, and better margins.

A peer review firm can do face-to-face meetings between the peer reviewer and treating physician/patient/provider, gaining a better understanding of the issue, while documenting same for the claims handler’s use.

A catastrophic case can be routed to a physician expert in the diagnosis, who can provide insight into optimal treatment plans, evaluate the medical condition, and assist the local provider to ensure the right care is provided – immediately.

What’s standing in the way of widespread use of tele- in workers’ comp is what we talked about yesterday – our culture.

Fear of innovation; obsessive focus on “proof” something works before implementing it widely; complacency; deep-rooted comfort with the status-quo, all are why work comp is adopting tele- much more slowly than group health.

What does this mean for you?

If you never take the bat off your shoulder, you may earn a walk – but you’ll never get a hit and you will strike out a lot.


It’s not just opioids.

Yes, opioids are the biggest problem in workers’ compensation.  Not just work comp medical, but in the entire work comp industry.

Opioids kill patients, prolong and intensify disability, ruin families, run up huge costs, and lead to myriad other problems. But opioids are far from the only problematic drug class in our tiny little world

No, we have gabapentin, Soma, and anxiolytics. But today we’re going to focus on anti-psychotics – yet another mis-used medication that is causing harm to work comp patients.  

Reportedly some prescribers are writing scripts for these drugs as an alternative to opioids or other pain medications; they aren’t required to check PDMP databases or otherwise deal with opioid-related issues when prescribing anti-psychotics. This lower “hassle-factor” may drive increased use of these medications as opioid-related prescribing legislation becomes more common in more states.

As with opioids, a big issue is the side effects…in this case, tardive dyskinesia.

  From wikipedia:

TD is a disorder that results in involuntary, repetitive body movements.vThis may include grimacing, sticking out the tongue, or smacking of the lips. Additionally there may be rapid jerking movements or slow writhing movements.[1] In about 20% of people decreased functioning results.

Tardive dyskinesia occurs in some people as a result of long-term use of neuroleptic medications (antipsychotics, metoclopramide).[1][2] These medications are usually used for mental illness…older neuroleptics [drugs]…are associated with high risk for tardive dyskinesia. (emphasis added)

The photos above are the least disturbing I could quickly locate; suffice it to say that TD is pretty horrible.  One of TD’s causes is long-term usage of antipsychotics – which, believe it or not, are becoming more prevalent in workers compensation.  A close friend who runs the pharmacy program for a top ten insurer told me prescriptions for these drugs are becoming increasingly common – and he’s now seeing scripts for drugs to treat their chief side effect – TD.

The good news is there’s now treatment for TD.  The bad news is the cost – between $125 and $150 a DAY for Ingrezza – that’s $60,000 annually. Forever.

What does this mean for you?

unintended consequences can be horrific. 

Work comp’s drug problem

Is getting a lot better, a lot faster than the rest of the world’s.

thanks to you.

I’m in the midst of conducting the 14th Annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp, a project I began way back when no one had heard of physician dispensing, and before opioids became a national disaster. (prior surveys can be downloaded at no cost here)

Physician dispensing in comp is slowly being solved – today WCRI released a comprehensive look at the issue which is well worth your time. (members get it for free, non-members pay a modest cost)

And we’ve made good progress on the opioid front, something few other payers can assert.  Overall, I’d hazard a guess that opioid spend – as a percentage of total drug spend – declined somewhat last year; we’ll know for sure in a couple of weeks.

The latest, albeit anecdotal takeaways from a dozen surveys I’ve done so far, indicates:

  • opioid spend continues to drop with some payers reporting double-digit percentage decreases
  • much of this comes from curtailing initial and secondary scripts
  • there’s a lot still to be done to address chronic users
  • payers are using a whole array of techniques, clinical resources, and tools to address opioid overuse, with many relying on PBMs for analytics, pharmacists, and physicians for peer-to-peer discussions
  • some payers expressed concern over the various overdose-prevention medications

Do NOT take this to mean we’ve won, that we’ve solved the opioid disaster, that we can take the rest of the summer off.

Far from it.

We’ve done the easy stuff, now comes the really knotty, tough problem of helping individual patients who’ve been prescribed way too many pills for far too long get their lives and health back.

What does this mean for you?

Thanks to all of you, who, through your work in the trenches, in policy, with individual patients and physicians and pharmacies, have made things better.  You have saved countless lives and countless families.



Medicaid’s really important – even/especially to you.

Welcome back to MCM; I took a few days off posting to hit the campaign trail, where I heard a LOT of concern about possible changes to Medicaid.
Most of us probably don’t think much about Medicaid. Here’s why we should.
First, Medicaid covers the poor elderly, those who are totally disabled, and depending on the state, poor kids and families.
Second, many are really sick people or frail elderly with no other way to get healthcare.


Medicaid reimbursement is generally low compared to private insurance or Medicare, but that doesn’t mean access is severely limited. In fact, (about 70% of physicians do accept new Medicaid patients versus about 85% who accept new privately insured and Medicare patients) (ESI is employer insurance)

Part of the solution

Is not being part of the problem. So, I’m running for office – specifically Onondaga County Legislator, 6th District.

I’d much appreciate your support if you are so inclined – please follow on Twitter and Facebook. We’re also fundraising and accepting contributions here.

Why am I running?

One reason – our area (Syracuse New York and surrounding communities) is the worst in the nation in terms of economic opportunity.

Yes, Onondaga County has been hammered by things beyond our control – as have many cities and counties. But unlike Buffalo, South Bend or Fort Wayne Indiana, our leaders have done little but watch and squabble and talk as our communities have deteriorated, businesses moved out, and jobs disappeared.

I see the history here- a community that created an entire industry and supplied the entire country with a critical resource – salt.

A community where innovation and creativity built a hugely successful foundry – Crucible. Where giant companies built big businesses and employed thousands in well-paying jobs in autos, electronics, chemicals, heavy industry here – in Onondaga County – because they needed committed workers, robust infrastructure, and can-do government. We have one of the world’s leading research universities, and in our community we have businesses like Tessy Plastics and Welch-Allyn, two innovative, successful businesses that prove you can prosper here.

Onondaga County can – must – get back to what it was – a high-energy, powerful, creative and can-do community.

County Legislators are supposed to manage a $1.4 BILLION budget, oversee County operations, and set priorities for the County. For this they get paid about $30,000 a year (which is about the average income here), AND get New York State health and retirement benefits. All that – taxpayer paid – for going to three or four meetings a month – if they even bother to schedule and show up to those meetings (many times they don’t).

As some of my most discerning readers may have noticed, my political leanings tilt Democratic – but old party definitions don’t mean much any more. Back in the day no Democrat would take $250,000 to speak to a huge investment bank, or forgive an entire industry for causing the worst recession since 1929, or ignore what’s been happening to working class families.

And Republicans wouldn’t have dreamed of trade protectionism or violating states’ rights by forcing them to comply with other states’ laws.

Yes, I’m going to continue my day job – working with workers’ comp companies to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs for employers and insurers. I love what I do, and I really enjoy helping companies get better.

One simple and greatly appreciated way to show support if you are so inclined would be to follow on Twitter & and Facebook. We’re also fundraising and accepting contributions here.

Tuesday catch-up

I’m going to announce something new tomorrow on the personal front; stay tuned for details…

Until then, here’s what I missed while doing a lot of non-work-related stuff over the last couple of weeks.

Medrisk has launched telerehab, a new service designed to deliver therapy and related services direct to patients at their worksite or home.  I’m a big fan; used appropriately telerehab can help patients heal faster and ensure their home exercises are performed correctly and consistently. (MedRisk is a consulting client).

Medical leadership at Broadspire is changing hands. Dr Marcos Iglesias is taking over from the estimable Dr Jake Lazarovic; Dr Jake has been at Broadspire for as long as I can remember.  He’s always been a pleasure to speak with; humble, highly observant, innovative and focused on always doing the right thing.  Dr Jake has long been one of the good people in our industry.

Dr Iglesias is a friend as well; Marcos has deep experience in occupational medicine as both a provider and insurance company clinical leader.

The first segment of Coventry’s annual drug trend report is out; key takeaways are:

  • opioid utilization dropped 8.5% from 2015 – 2016
  • Average Morphine Equivalents per script decreased 5.6%
  • Total drug costs were down 5.8%

This is yet more evidence that PBMs and payers are doing really good work in cutting employers’ costs and patient risks.  Note to regulators – this is happening across the country; please don’t do things that will hamper PBMs’ efforts to ensure patients get the right drugs.

An excellent review of where the dollars flow in pharma from HealthAffairs; note this is for ALL pharma, not just workers comp or health insurance. (chart from HealthAffairs)

WCRI’s released a series of reports on worker outcomes, following on the heels of an assessment of workers’ comp income benefit adequacy.  WCRI has been focusing on outcomes and worker satisfaction for some time now; kudos to John Ruser and predecessor Rick Victor for this important work.

Finally, a really interesting piece from Harvard Business Review on how some very large employers are dumping health insurers and buying healthcare direct.  I will predict this is going to happen more frequently, and is a big risk for the big four healthplans.  

Health Wonk Review update

Friday I inadvertently left out two excellent posts from long time contributors Hank Stern and Roy Poses Md PhD.

My apologies to these gentlemen, and here’s a very brief UPDATE – with their contributions.

Hank Stern, contributed a post about the Defense Base Act, and a contractor’s…challenges when encountering the Act…DBA is kinda like workers comp without the unlimited benefits…and this poor soul suffered mightily.  Hank delves into the details as to how this could happen.  The brief answer – all too easily.

Healthcare in the occupational arena is often the  forgotten red-headed stepchild of the healthcare world, yet it is a significant issue for both the workers who sustain what can be life altering workplace injuries and employers who bear the full cost burden for medical care and wage replacement. At Workers’ Comp Insider, Tom Lynch offers a primer of best practices in his Eight Steps To Controlling Workers’ Compensation Costs part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Roy Poses provided a different perspective on health care, asking why people with no healthcare background are running health care delivery organizations.  

from Roy’s post…

I believe that managerialism in a health care context (leadership of health care organizations by people with only management training, and without any knowledge, understanding or experience in health care, based only on management dogma) is one of the major causes of health care dysfunction. Here is a great example of a managerialist hospital CEO who also seemed to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect, that people who lack ability are likely unaware of this lack…To belabor the obvious, true health care reform requires health care leadership that understands health care and upholds its professional values.

An interesting post to juxtapose comes fromJason Shafrin, who asks “Does more spending improve outcomes?” 

number of studies have claimed that increasing health expenditures may result in no better, or even worse patient outcomes.  The Healthcare Economist revisits the topic looking at the case of neonatal ward spending and patient outcomes in the UK.