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WCRI’s John Ruser on why you need to come to Phoenix

I caught up with WCRI CEO John Ruser PhD last week to find out why the WCRI Conference is in Phoenix, what we’ll learn, and why this event sells out every year. (register here)

  • Why move this to Phoenix?

Traditionally, our conference has been held in the Boston/Cambridge area (east coast). This year we want to make it easier for our members and others interested in our research who live on the west coast to attend. We know traveling can be expensive in time and money, so we sought to lower the threshold for those on the west coast to join us. Although we will be back in Boston next year, we will review the success of having this year’s conference in a different location and, based on that review, consider moving it around to other cities.

(Paduda comment – and Phoenix is a lot sunnier than Boston in March…)

  • What is the hot topic this year?

Coordinated services – getting employers, providers, patients to work together. We have two sessions on this.

The first features Prof. Tom Wickizer, with the Ohio State University College of Public Health, who helped create a pilot of these coordinated services in Washington state. He will talk about how this program came to fruition and the challenges and successes they had.

Joining him is Jennifer Sheehy with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. She will talk about the considerable investment the federal government is making to stimulate this approach in eight states. She’ll explain to us the motivation behind this move as well as give us a status update.

The second session features Dr. Cameron Mustard, president and chief scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, who will discuss the challenges and successes a large acute-care hospital system and it’s three unions faced in developing an innovative and collaborative return-to-work program.

  • How did Coordinated Services become the lead topic this year?

Whether it is in the political realm, the boardroom, or the workplace, when people fail to work together, it is difficult to innovate and address complex challenges. The workers’ compensation environment is no different.

At this year’s conference, we are featuring some of WCRI’s latest research, as well as engaging sessions on the latest trends and examples of industry stakeholders coming together to tackle some of the system’s most important challenges, such as opioid misuse, return to work, and providing the worker the highest standard of care.

It fits into a broader focus of many stakeholders in workers’ compensation who see the benefits of collaboration and working together to improve injured worker outcomes.

  • On the topic of erosion of benefits, my guess is the lower frequency rate is a factor.  Is this a correct assumption? And have worker indemnity benefits on a per-claim basis actually eroded?

Yes, correct assumption. I will present National Academy of Social Insurance data to show that workers’ compensation benefits as a percent of covered wages are at their lowest level since 1980 and that this share has been declining for over a quarter century. Some say that’s an erosion of benefits, but there’s much more to it.

In my presentation, I will highlight contributors to this trend, emphasizing the ubiquitous declines in injury rates and workers’ compensation claim rates that are partially offset by increases in injury and claim severity. I will also identify factors responsible for these offsetting trends, including improvements in safety, changes in the mix of jobs and compensability rules, the aging workforce and economic conditions. 

  • What other sessions should we know about?

I am very excited about our keynote speaker, Princeton University Professor Alan Krueger, who is considered one of the 50 highest-ranked economists in the world.

He will be giving a presentation on the economics of the opioid epidemic and how it affected the labor force participation rate. Then he will sit down with me to discuss his research and thoughts about the future of work and the impact of technology on the economy.

I will also ask him about his experience working in Washington, D.C. as the former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

  • What will those attending the conference come away with?

Apart from networking with experts and other high-level workers’ compensation professionals, we want our attendees to walk away from the conference having learned valuable things they didn’t already know.

This conference sells out every year – so get your registration in soon here.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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