Nov
9

Work comp claim counts – part 4

Two important data points hit the news this week, both worthy of your attention.

First, BLS data indicates private industry employers reported 47,000 fewer occupational injuries and illnesses in 2017 compared to the previous year, a decrease of about 1.7 percent.

The rate, or frequency of total reportable cases declined by 0.1 cases per 100 FTE. As we’ve reported in the past, BLS data does not precisely mirror work comp claims – but it’s very close.

(Note this does NOT include public sector employer data)

So, occupational injuries and illnesses, along with work comp claims frequency, both dropped last year.

Next, insurer CNA CEO Dino Robusto said this in CNA’s earnings call:

we’ve been seeing negative sort of mid single-digit frequency trends over the past several quarters, which is less negative than a year ago. Now, while we’ve seen some pockets, where frequency has increased, the negative frequency trend overall is still favorable to our long run trend assumptions, because we did not lower our long run frequency assumptions despite the actual frequency consistently more negative than our assumption. [emphasis added]

(thanks to SeekingAlpha for the transcript)

Recall the Hartford has seen an uptick in claims frequency of late, one their CEO opined is not unique to his company.

I checked on other major workers’ comp insurers, including the Travelers, and  AIG and did not find anything useful pertaining to frequency or claim counts.

So, what does this mean for you?

Watch your claim frequency carefully, especially in geographic areas and business sectors where hiring is very tough. It could be you’ll see an uptick in claims, due probably to compromises in hiring due to the tight labor market.


Oct
31

Workers’ comp claims, OSHA reportables, and why both are dropping

Well, some posts get a life of their own, and so it is with this discussion of claims frequency and claims counts. After much discussion with colleagues and several back-and-forth emails with WCRI CEO John Ruser PhD about the correlation of OSHA recordable data and work comp claims and why both are declining, I decided the best way to get this to you, dear reader, is via an interview. So, read on.

MCM – I believe that you were responsible for the BLS OSHA-recordable injury data for years. What are a couple key points readers should know about the OSHA-recordable reports?

Dr Ruser – Yes, I was BLS Assistant Commissioner for Occupational Safety and Health Statistics for over 5 years and was a researcher of the BLS OSHA data for many years before that.

While there has been some controversy about the completeness of reporting in the OSHA recordkeeping system (see below), the BLS OSHA-recordable injury rate data are extremely valuable for several reasons.  They are very detailed by State, by industry, by establishment size and by worker characteristics, so that are an important benchmarking tool for risk managers and others seeking to compare their company’s injury rates against their peers.  From the perspective of focusing injury risk reduction efforts, they are important in identifying those groups of workers at higher risk of injury and they are used by OSHA to identify high-risk industries for inspections.  And, with their long relatively-consistent time series and detail, they are a valuable tool for researchers seeking to understand factors that contribute to workplace injuries.

MCM – Where does BLS get the data for the OSHA-recordable reports?

Dr Ruser – BLS’s estimates of OSHA-recordable injuries are based on a very large annual survey of about a quarter-million establishments (that is, specific locations of a company or organization) called the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII).  The SOII contains employer-reported data drawn from the OSHA logs that establishments keep throughout the year.  SOII covers non-fatal occupational injuries and those illnesses that can be directly linked to a workplace.  A separate BLS program, the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, uses multiple data sources, such as death certificates, OSHA reports and many other sources, to track workplace deaths due to injury.

MCM – there’s been questions about the decline in reportables over the years. Can you comment on these questions?

Dr Ruser – Some skeptics of the declines in the BLS OSHA-recordable injury rates attribute these declines to changes in OSHA-recordkeeping rules and practices or tightening in WC compensability rules, meaning the declines in injury rates are at least in part an artifact of reporting.  External research supported by BLS and other non-BLS-supported research does suggest that the number of injuries captured in SOII undercounts the true number of OSHA-recordable injuries.  (BLS has a very complete webpage on SOII data quality research that you can access here: https://www.bls.gov/iif/soii-bibliography.htm)

But, while the numbers (levels) of injuries and claims may be undercounted, the issue for the observed declines (trends) in injuries (and WC claims) is whether underreporting has grown.  There is little direct research on this.  A study by Washington State comparing SOII data to WC claims found that during the first five years of the study period (2002 – 2006), underreporting decreased, while it increased from 2007 to 2011.  Importantly, the Washington State researchers concluded that the total estimated actual number of SOII-eligible WC time loss injuries decreased over the ten year span, meaning there were real declines in injuries (and some underreporting too).

The Washington State study was excellent, but it focused on one state and a relatively short time span, which included a great recession during the second half of the study period when underreporting was identified.   Another approach to validating the time trends is to compare to other data that should not be susceptible to the concerns raised about reporting.

MCM – what analyses did you do to explore that issue?

Dr Ruser – I compared the SOII data with data from other sources.  First, I looked at how the US injury rate for 3 or more days away from work tracks with the NCCI indemnity claiming rate.  The declines in these two data series track extremely closely.  So, while the OSHA recordkeeping system is technically independent of workers’ compensation, the BLS injury data and the NCCI claims data are telling the same story and the BLS data can be used to try to identify factors associated with the decline in the NCCI WC claiming rate.

Regarding whether the BLS injury rate decline is real, I created an index of the OSHA-recordable case rate for cases with 3 or more days away from work and lined it up with a similar index for 15 EU countries for injuries with 4 or more days away from work (the series most comparable to the US data).  The chart that is attached shows how similar the trends are in the US and in the EU.  The index was set to 100 for injury rate values in 1998 and the other values in the chart are injury rates relative to 1998.  As of 2014, the US injury rate was 54 percent of its value in 1998, while the EU injury rate in 2014 was 49 percent of its value in 1998.

MCM – what does this mean (for our readers)?:

Dr Ruser- The remarkably similar trends in the US and EU data suggest that we need to look beyond US-specific explanations (such as OSHA-recordkeeping rules or WC compensability rules) to understand what is responsible for the long-run aggregate declines in injury rates and WC claims rates.  While there may be some changes in reporting at least over part of the past quarter century, the good news, I believe, is that there has been a remarkable improvement in safety and this improvement is seen in most industries and in many developed countries.


Oct
19

Research (and other important stuff) Roundup

It’s that time again – WCRI has released it’s latest series of CompScope reports, the most detailed and thorough review of all things work comp medical in 18 key states. If you are an investment analyst, industry tracker, or involved in planning for a TPA, state fund, insurer or large employer, get yourself over to WCRI and get those reports!

If you want to understand what Medicare for All really is, how it might work, and what it means to you, read KFF’s summary review. There are 8 (!) proposals now making the rounds, and I’m betting your healthcare will come from some version of universal coverage within the decade.

Excellent piece by Roberto Ceniceros on premium fraud and its impact on employers and insurers. I’ve got to give credit once more to Matt Capece of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters – he’s been a major force exposing premium and payroll fraud all across the country. For his efforts, IAIABC gave Matt its Samuel Gompers Award. And kudos to Roberto for his in-depth reporting on a critical issue.

NCCI continues to up its game, making research accessible and relevant. Medical marijuana, opioid legislation, air ambulance regs – it’s all here.

Our penultimate piece is a bit more intel on rideshare and rural America – well worth a read if you’re involved in this narrow-but-deep slice of the work comp services world.

Finally, as it’s election season we need to hold those political candidates accountable: Andrew Sprung’s dissection of candidate Bob Hugin’s dissembling on the dismantling of the ACA is just what voters should be asking.

And, from the “coolest/dumbest thing I’ve seen all week” is this. Wondering if this is the answer to speedy ridesharing on the Russian steppes. Who wouldn’t want a jet engine in their Uber?

Hat tip to the Drive!

 


Sep
28

Research Roundup – Friday edition

So, hard as it is to believe, there was some non-Supreme Court hearing stuff going on this week.

I know…I missed most of it too.

So, here’s some of the most important research we all missed while overloading incoming web servers watching yesterday’s hearing.

Drugs, Opioids, and profiteering physicians

The fine folks at WCRI continue to do lots of stuff so we don’t have to. Two things stand out this week; a compendium of every state’s work-comp pharmacy-related regulations, and a webinar on the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of regulations designed to address the should-almost-never-be-allowed practice of physicians dispensing drugs for profit.

Out in the real world, we learn that in many cases it’s harder to get access to drugs to deal with Opioid Use Disorder than to get the opioids that cause OUD. 

14% of plans do not cover buprenorphine/naloxone, a preferred medication for OUD maintenance treatment. Only 11% of plans cover implantable buprenorphine and 26% cover injectable naltrexone, both of which may facilitate adherence for patients with OUD. Seventy-three percent of plans cover at least one abuse-deterrent opioid pain medication, while 100% of plans cover at least one short-acting opioid pain medication.

Hey P&T committees, get with the times!

Making sense of data

myMatrixx’ Cliff Beliveau has an excellent piece on using data visualization to help explain complex issues. Well worth a read.

Dumb things companies do

Roberto Ceniceros’ column on Lockton’s denied-claim research has been on my desktop for weeks. I’ve read it twice, and you should too. Net is this – denying claims is often a really bad idea.

Finally, from the professor who teaches what may be the only most important class in business school comes an eye-opening look into how work is bad for you. The logic and rationale is not what you may think. Here’s just one excerpt, which I would label Companies are not smart:

Companies do not act on the basis of the best evidence. They merge even though much research shows that mergers destroy value. They use forced-curve ranking systems for performance reviews even though extensive evidence documents the harmful effects. There is no reason to believe they would behave any differently with respect to their human capital.

Evidence shows work hours are negatively related to productivity, that giving people more autonomy leads to higher motivation, and that layoffs often harm performance, including profits. So in making employees sick, employers have created a lose-lose situation.

Enjoy the first weekend of fall.


Sep
21

Work comp/Auto medical bill review – initial takes

We are about a third of the way thru interviews for the third Survey of Medical Bill Review in Workers’ Comp and Auto; here are a few initial takes.

  • Bill review has progressed a lot in the last decade, with key advances in:
    • Auto-adjudication of more bills
    • Better coordination/integration with document management
    • Ability to more readily connect with other key systems e.g. treasury/finance, state reporting, claims
  • One area that still needs a lot of work – automated integration with UM/UR applications
  • E-billing is leading to more auto-adjudicated bills, but headaches as well.
  • In general, respondents don’t see a lot of differentiation among bill review vendors.
    • But some respondents point to key differences between vendors and application providers that should be top of mind for payers
  • The most common pricing methodology? so far, it’s a flat fee per bill for bill review and the old percentage of savings for everything else.
  • that said, there are some pretty innovative approaches to pricing out there that bear watching

The last time we did this survey was six years ago.  We will be comparing and contrasting results to document what’s changed and where things are going.

If you’d like to participate, shoot an email to infoAThealthstrategyassocDOTcom.  Substitute symbols for the caps.


Sep
20

Research Roundup

Trying a new idea out today – a post that is

a) a quick overview of the latest research on stuff that’s important (at least to me) and

b) my thoughts on what it means to you.

Disability

A new report documents the results of a very robust study of work comp patients done in Washington State. It found that “reorganizing the delivery of occupational health care to support effective secondary prevention in the first 3 months following injury” reduced long term disability by 30%.

Briefly, patients treated in the State Centers for Occupational Health and Education were significantly less likely to become permanently disabled than those treated outside the COHE system.

This means – find out what the COHEs are doing, and replicate it.

Hat tip tp Gary Franklin MD MPH, Medical Director of Washington L&I

Employment

We’ll need all those workers back on the job, if the World Economic Forum’s forecast that automation will create millions more jobs than it will destroy. The report claims there will be 58 million more new jobs than lost jobs as companies shift to more automation – and this is within 5 years.

HOWEVER – these jobs will go unfilled if trained and capable workers aren’t around to staff them.

This means – companies best invest in training for tomorrow’s jobs. And integrating this with return-to-work would be pretty damn brilliant.

Monday Claims

More in the string of great stuff from NCCI, this week the Boca brainiacs released a study of “Monday morning claims.” The news is..there’s no news. The implementation of the ACA (THANK YOU for not mis-calling this “Obamacare”) did not change the percentage of claims that were reported on Monday, even in those states that had the largest decrease in the uninsured population post-ACA.

This means – we need to stop talking about Monday morning claims – which aren’t a thing.

More to come next week


Aug
28

Asbestos is back!!?

The Trump Administration has loosened rules that will allow broader use of asbestos in manufacturing.  

Here’s how Fast Company put it:

A lengthy report of EPA’s new “framework” for evaluating risk, placed into effect this month, detailed how it would no longer consider the effect or presence of substances in the air, ground, or water in its risk assessments—effectively turning a blind eye to improper disposal, contamination, emissions, and other long-term environmental and health risks associated with chemical products, including those derived from asbestos.

No one knew how dangerous asbestos was until people started dying from exposure to it. How many thousands of dads, brothers, friends, moms and sisters would have been saved if researchers had studied exposure risks and informed the public?  How many tens of billions of dollars would have been saved, not spent on medical care, remediation, lawyers fees?

I don’t think we’ll see any big increase in the use of asbestos – the litigation risk is just astronomical and no insurance company would allow it – so no business will use it (wait, there are unscrupulous business owners that will do anything for profit, so there is some risk…)

But that’s not the point.

The point is that the health risks of any number of substances, compounds, fibers, chemicals will NOT be evaluated before we are exposed to them.

I’m thinking liability insurers are going to be quite concerned by this.

With the EPA abdicating its responsibility to protect the environment and us, the risk of lawsuits and huge awards increases dramatically.

While no insurance company will accept the liability for increased use of asbestos, they may well start re-writing coverage to ensure they aren’t on the hook for tomorrow’s asbestos suits.

What does this mean for you?

Increased health risks over the long term, and increased insurance costs over the near term.


Aug
17

The Opioid Update

72,000 kids, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, best friends died last year from opioid overdoses.

Things are so bad that despite the ever-climbing death toll, news reports announcing the butcher’s bill manage to sound somewhat positive, citing reductions in deaths in a handful of states. Meanwhile, between 2.1 and 4 million Americans suffer from Opioid Abuse Disorder. 

Fentanyl is now the biggest driver, accelerating a years-long upward trend begun by rampant over-prescribing of prescription opioids.

Researchers cite some reasons for optimism; death rates in the west remain pretty flat – likely because the heroin used there is hard to mix with fentanyl…however there’s evidence that the black tar folks are figuring out how to do just that.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers; debating, pontificating, speechifying – and doing precious little.

To date, they’ve allocated a mere billion dollars to the biggest health crisis we’ve seen in decades.

Here in workers’ comp land, CWCI just released an analysis of polypharmacy among work comp patients in California. (Polypharmcy refers to patients getting multiple drugs.)

Two key takeaways:

  • A combination of  opioids, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories was the most common drug cocktail. (opioids combined with muscle relaxants are very, very dangerous)
  • Shockingly, fully one-fifth of patients prescribed 3 or more drugs have back strains without skeletal involvement. Another tenth have various other sprains.  Yup, strains and sprains account for about a third of these patients.

What does this mean for you?

The next time someone protests the UR/IMR process, ask them how many more patients have to die from opioids before they accept that doctors need oversight.

 


Jul
27

Friday catch-up

I thought summer was supposed to be slow…

Sorry for lack of posts last two weeks – just slammed with client work.

here’s what I should have been posting on.

Economy drives employment drives workers comp

The economy boomed in the last quarter, with growth around 4 percent, a number we haven’t seen for four years.

Chart from Statista.

That’s the headline; the real story is less positive. Growth was partially driven by:

Here’s hoping things continue without overheating; forecasts aren’t so positive.

Implications – Lots of jobs open means higher wages and incentives for employers to keep workers on the job and get them back to work ASAP.

For those who just can’t get enough of the tariff issue – here’s the Harvard Business Review’s historical perspective.  Yes, I am a nerd.

Heat = more work-related illnesses/injuries

Deadly fires in Yosemite and California and Greece and Siberia and Sweden. A heat emergency in Japan. Temps in LA at record levels – even overnight. Scorching temperatures here in upstate New York.

Yes, climate change is happening. Yes, humans are the cause. And yes, it’s going to impact workers.

If the wet-bulb temperature (equivalent to that recorded by a thermometer wrapped in a moist towel) exceeds 35°C [95 degrees Fahrenheit], even a fit, healthy youngster lounging naked in the shade next to a fan could die in six hours.

Shifts in weather patterns are far more significant than overall global warming as they lead to very hot and dry conditions some places, hot and wet others, and exacerbate storm intensity among other effects.

Kudos to NCCI – they’ve been producing some highly relevant, much needed, and very useful research of late. Detailed, thorough, and diverse, and well worth your careful review.

One different angle is their ongoing work to highlight the good done by the  workers comp industry every day. Today’s installment is another example of this; there’s a lot more recognition that work comp is about the patients and employers.

Well done.

Opioids in the Federal workforce

Thanks to the great folks who handle my social media, website, and all that technical stuff I don’t understand at all, we’ve got video of testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

 


Jul
23

Sloooooow progress in California’s work comp system

That’s the quick takeaway from a review of CWCI’s just-published report on drug prescription management in the Golden State. (there’s a lot more to this study than this…)

As cognoscenti (a fancy word for nerds) know, the utilization review (UR) and Independent Medical Review (IMR) processes were intended to help ensure patients got the drugs they needed quickly, were protected from dangerous or potentially unsafe drugs, and prescribers would learn what was likely to fly and what wasn’t.

This last was based on decades of experience in healthcare, observing what happens when evidence-based guidelines protected by utilization review processes to encourage/require compliance are put into place. In most every other instance, providers adapted their care models to meet the standards, and after a flurry of appeals at the outset, things settled down a lot.

But, well, hey, this is workers’ comp…

The first two (better care and patient safety) seem to have worked pretty well, but up till now, it appeared that WC prescribers were militant non-learners as the volume and type of UR/IMR requests just didn’t taper off.

My assessment of CWCI’s report is (equivocation alert) prescribers MAY BE changing their behavior – a wee bit. 

Here’s what’s driving my optimistic take (from CWCI):

After the formulary took effect last January, prescription drug requests declined from 44.5 percent to 40.7 percent of all UR decisions in the study sample – a relative decline of 8.5 percent.

I mean, how could one not dance in jubilation, right?

Well, perhaps prescribers have decided to not keep pushing that stone up the hill. Or perhaps it’s just a temporary hiatus.

I’m going to remain optimistic, and you should read the entire report because there’s lots of good info in it.

What does this mean for you?

Less hassle, better care. We hope.