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.


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.


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


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


Paradigm Outcomes acquired

Paradigm will be acquired by investment firm Omers, a Toronto, Canada headquartered company. Sources indicate the price was approximately 14 times earnings; by my calculation, the total valuation was above a billion dollars.

Till now, Omers had not been visible in the work comp services investment space. And, Paradigm was not “shopped” in the usual way; an investment bank is hired, books go out, bids are accepted, etc. The price is even more remarkable as there wasn’t an auction; the valuation continues what’s become the new normal pricing for work comp assets.

If it seems like you were just reading about a Paradigm acquisition…you were. The company just completed a deal to buy pain management network company AdvaNet.

Omers does own Premise Health, a worksite clinic firm, as well as two outpatient rehab and physical therapy companies – however sources indicate there are no plans for any collaboration or combination of assets.

What does this mean for you?

If you own a work comp services business – sell now!


The biggest deal in work comp to date

Yesterday’s announcement that Carlyle is acquiring Sedgwick is a clear indication that the work comp services industry remains a favorite of private equity investors.

The transaction, which valued the giant TPA at $6.7 billion, far exceeds the previous record set by the ill-fated One Call deal. It also produced very healthy returns for previous owner KKR; it bought the company for $2.4 billion just four years ago.

A 180% increase in value over a brief four years speaks to Sedgwick’s successes over that period, a clear and compelling growth strategy, and strong belief in management, which remains an investor in the company. (To be clear, a big chunk of this value growth was also driven by two major acquisitions, discussed below)

Here’s my brief take on why Sedgwick sold for so much.


I’ve crossed swords with CEO Dave North in the past, but no one can argue with the success he and his team has delivered. I’ve also come to know several senior management folks, and they are, to a person, impressive.


Work comp is shrinking, and TPAs are perhaps the only segment of the industry that will benefit from that shrinkage.  As claim counts decline, more insurers are choosing to have TPAs handle more of their claims.

Sedgwick also increased its internal work comp services expertise and capabilities. One example – the pharmacy management program overseen by Paul Peak PharmD is delivering impressive results.

North et al embarked on a clear diversification strategy several years ago, a strategy evidently designed to continue the company’s growth by dramatically increasing its footprint internationally and in property adjusting. Sedgwick’s acquisition of Cunningham Lindsey and Vericlaim positioned the company to profit from climate-change driven events such as hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and the like.

Wise indeed.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t reprise my comments from a few weeks ago –  there just aren’t that many work comp services assets to buy these days. To be clear, Sedgwick is neither a Pinto or a Gremlin; far from it.

The services industry has bifurcated into really big companies – Mitchell, Genex, Sedgwick, One Call, and relatively small ones – MTI America, HomeCare Connect and the like. While there are several firms occupying the middle ground, overall the number of potential acquisition targets has shrunk dramatically.

Because the big companies are really, really big, relatively few PE firms have the financial wherewithal to buy them.

As a result, when assets do come to market, investors seem willing to bid up prices.

What does this mean for you?

There are ways to succeed and profit in a consolidating, highly mature industry.



Florence and work comp

Hurricane Florence will devastate much of North and South Carolina and parts of Virginia as well.

Florence will have some impact on workers’ comp – and in some ways already has.

  • Industry capacity – The work comp insurance market remains soft, and until and unless capital dries up, it is likely to remain soft. Insurance stocks took a hit as investors anticipated major losses, and the catastrophe bond market sunk as well. Total projections for insured losses range from $12 to $20 billion, a range that is well within the financial capacity of the industry.
    If current rainfall and storm surge forecasts prove accurate, projected losses can be absorbed without undue stress. I don’t expect Florence to affect work comp premium rates.
  • Preparing for service delays – In conversations with work comp home health care, PBMs and other work comp patient service providers, I learned that these companies are doing a lot to prepare, including:
    • sending patients additional medications, soft goods and consumables in case mail services are disrupted
    • re-locating patients to facilities in case home health care providers can’t reach patients’ homes, or their homes lose utility services for extended periods
    • testing their backup and business interruption processes to ensure they can stay functional
    • re-scheduling office visits, therapy sessions, IMEs and other services
  • Post-storm cleanup and rebuilding – There will be two employment effects – Storm recovery companies will hire thousands of contract workers to help clean up debris and damage from the storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. Most of this will take place in the next couple of weeks. Rebuilding will – of course – take much longer, and will increase hours and wages in construction, logistics, and other industries.  Hiring and payroll increases won’t be enough to move the national needle, but it will be material in the affected states.
    As many of the clean-up workers will be temps, there will be a localized and very short-term uptick in claims.

The bigger story here is future storms will be larger, more damaging, and perhaps more frequent.

Harvey’s rains were almost 40% more intense due to global warming. Changes to the jet stream associated with changing weather patterns have affected Florence’s path.

What does this mean for you?

The climate is changing; weather will too.  Those who deny this do so at their peril.



The latest deal in workers’ comp services

Paradigm announced it is purchasing Adva-Net, a Florida-based company with a network of pain management providers. While terms weren’t disclosed, word is the price was north of $105 million, a very healthy multiple of earnings.

I interviewed Paradigm CEO John Watts a few weeks back, but decided to hold off on publishing it until this deal was done. Watts, who has an impressive resume including multiple leadership roles in the “real world” (outside of work comp) is impressive; he has a clear strategic vision for the company, knows what he doesn’t know, and appears to understand the critical importance of branding. Quotes are from Watts

We talked about his strategy for Paradigm and the acquisitions the company made over the past year plus – specifically Foresight Medical and two case management firms – Alaris and Encore. In addition, Paradigm just acquired several ‘advisory solutions’ focused on pain management, catastrophic claims, and back care from Best Doctors.

Frankly I’ve long been somewhat puzzled by these acquisitions; NCM is old school, Foresight is anything but (and was wicked expensive).

Before those additions to the company, Paradigm had “a nice longstanding business doing pretty much one thing” – managing a carefully selected inventory of catastrophic claims, and doing so quite well.  Management realized that a sole focus on cat claims wasn’t enough and the company needed to diversify.  Acquiring case management assets, a business that Watt noted is “way more traditional than the cat claim business”, gave that cat claim “operation access to about 500 +/- employed nurse case managers.” Not only did this expand Paradigm’s ability to handle cat cases, it increased it’s customer footprint, provided a training ground for cat nurses, and added some “synergies” – management speak for reducing overhead expenses like management, finance, and HR.

Going forward, Paradigm “wants to stitch together assets with the ability to take risk in complex acute situations to manage clinical outcomes…[the company will likely handle] more types of catastrophic conditions while also moving into lower severity claims.” Alaris and Encore (Paradigm’s NCM firms) help them do that.

Foresight was another acquisition; I asked how these services align with Foresight.

Foresight stands on it’s own. According to Watts, it has a “Strong focus on implants, cost and quality…Foresight is also building a high performance orthopedic network using data analytics.”

In the near future, expect Paradigm to be a “big player in the musculoskeletal space.” The company (again this was several weeks ago) was “in an acquisitive place now.”  Going forward, the plan is to focus on becoming known as expert in managing ortho surgery care…first, couple [Foresight’s ortho network] services with NCM, then add catastrophic services.”

At the end state, expect Paradigm to handle a defined bundle from point of injury to back to work.

Future expansion will likely include a “front end solution on musculoskeletal condition to help clients avoid unnecessary surgeries” and the tools to do that.

So, Paradigm is focused on adding depth and breadth to the solutions it provides work comp payers – adding services to help with less acute claims, and broadening its capabilities to handle more of the claim medical service spectrum.

In this context, Adva-net will add a pain management provider network. After a rather prolonged development period, the company’s earnings recently ramped up significantly. The business model is primarily a traditional percentage of savings arrangement – the more services delivered, the more dollars earned.

The acquisition brings another specialty-focused business, some additional customers, and a provider network to the Paradigm portfolio.

The acquisition was expensive, but as the company has shown with Foresight, it isn’t afraid to pony up the bucks when it sets its sights on a deal.

My take.

Paradigm is intelligently diversifying and has a coherent and promising strategy. That said, I still don’t understand the prices paid.


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.


King v CompPartners – good news, but another shoe to drop?

Yesterday California’s Supreme Court fully supported the State’s workers’ comp UR/IMR process.

That is excellent news.

First, here’s the key takeaway – the Court ruled that workers’ comp remains the “exclusive remedy” for resolving disputes related to treatment approvals/UR/IMR.

Second, the California Legislature may well take up the issue and require payers to take into consideration the potential medical effects of a treatment decision, perhaps including weaning off medications that are no longer approved.

The Ruling

UR/IMR is an inherent part of the workers’ comp process, and therefore falls under the exclusive remedy provision of work comp. So, the plaintiff could not sue the IMR reviewer for an allegedly adverse treatment decision.

(Any treatment arising from the plaintiff’s medical care – which in this case was allegedly due to the suddenly stopping a medication – is part of the work comp claim.)

Here’s how CWCI General Counsel Ellen Sims Langille put it:

We have long contended that exclusive remedy was the beginning and end of the discussion in this case, inasmuch as the URO was acting in the capacity of the employer, and as a statutorily required part of the claims process, and now the Supreme Court has agreed.  The URO was acting as the “alter ego” of the employer, and the utilization review itself is a statutorily required part of the claims process.  That is the very definition of exclusive remedy.

The Court of Appeal had made an obvious error in finding that the seizures suffered by Mr. King were compensable outside of the workers’ compensation system because there were no allegations that he was working at the time he suffered the seizures.  That is a fundamental misunderstanding of how compensable consequences work.  As our Amicus brief argued, the injuries alleged by Mr. King were derivative of a compensable workplace injury, and the new compensable consequences injuries fall within the scope of the workers’ compensation bargain — and within exclusive remedy.

But there’s more, which may lead to additional legislative action to address the underlying event behind King…again from Langille:

Concurring Opinions were filed by two justices, and may prove to be the enduring legacy of the decision.  Justice Liu frankly invites the Legislature to examine whether existing safeguards provide sufficient incentive for competent and careful utilization review, pointedly noting his skepticism that “a care plan… appropriate for the medical needs of the employee” was established before the Klonopin was discontinued.  Even the Majority Opinion referenced the same language from §4610(i)(4)(C).  Unfortunately, it does not appear that any of the justices understood that this subsection applies only to cases of concurrent review, which is defined under Reg.  §9792.6(d) as “utilization review conducted during an inpatient stay” and thus inapplicable to the facts of this case.  Be that as it may, it is likely that the next legislative session will include some effort to expand the safeguards for the injured worker under utilization review.

What does this mean for you?

Consider the impact of medical treatment decisions on the patient’s future condition. 


This makes zero sense.

A totally unqualified person has been appointed to California’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. The person in question is not a work comp person, legal scholar, labor advocate, or claims expert, but an 80 year old retired music teacher whose sole regulatory experience is a brief stint on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board.

Mr Gaffney, undated photo from facebook

Mr Gaffney has no apparent experience, education, or training that in any way qualifies him for any role in the workers’ comp system, much less a role as significant as an Appeals Court Judge. He is a high school classmate of retiring Gov Jerry Brown, who reportedly ran into Mr Gaffney at an event, and after a discussion decided to help him out by appointing him to a very lucrative position.

The California Applicant Attorneys Association seems to think this is a good idea, citing Mr Gaffney’s “heart”:

Getting beyond legalisms and into the heart and humanity of the workers we represent could be music to our ears.

I don’t see the logic behind the CAAA’s statement that Mr Gaffney’s decades of involvement in choral music mean he is a “person who has dedicated himself to the hearts of ordinary people – working class immigrants.” Sounds like he has dedicated himself to their ears, not their hearts…

If intrinsic goodness, love, dedication to the downtrodden, and pureness of heart are key criteria, the sainted Mother Teresa would be a perfect candidate.

Further, this is an Appeals Board – one where Mr Gaffney will be involved in decisions that will set precedent. Where he will have to adjudicate complicated issues around causation, apportionment (!), penalties for unreasonableness, assignment of liability, exclusive remedy and the like.

This is really complicated stuff that attorneys with decades of experience struggle with.

No matter how wonderful one’s heart is, it is no substitute for knowledge and experience.

If you are hurt on the job and have a disagreement with your employer about your claim, you very much want the arbiter of that disagreement to:

  1. Know a lot about workers’ compensation
  2. Have a lot of experience dealing with cases like your’s
  3. Understand the laws so they can give a final ruling that won’t keep you in limbo

If the arbiter isn’t all of the above, you may well be treated unfairly, have your case appealed to an even higher court, and not get things resolved for years.

What does this mean for you?

The appointment will be reviewed by the California State Senate Rules Committee.  Encourage this body to reject the appointment. 



Work comp claim counts are dropping – what this means for you

Claims counts are continuing to decline. That’s good news for employers and taxpayers, but not-so-good news for the businesses that service claims.

Ok, counts aren’t falling as fast as that sheep, but you get the point.

Here’s what this means for you and others…

For TPAs – Good news indeed – as counts decline, more insurers are choosing to have TPAs handle more of their claims. That new business is great, but…

That “but” is this – the claims business is going to become ever more competitive.  TPAs are going to have to get a lot more creative than figuring out new ways to charge for bill review and network access. Predictive modeling, narrow network development and operation, outcomes assessment are all paths to take. But become especially adept at taking over claims, because…

Smaller claims staffs = more flexibility for insurers and lower admin expenses.  It is much easier for carriers to adapt to changing markets when they don’t employ their own claims staff.  It also keeps their unallocated loss adjustment expenses lower, allowing them to be more competitive.

Those carriers also don’t have to worry (as much) about investing in new systems, processes, applications or technology when the claims are handled by a third party. This addresses one of the biggest problems in work comp – insufficient (to be kind) IT budgets.

Service companies – investigations, case management, peer review, IME, you name it – are all fighting over a shrinking pie. In this very-mature market, there just isn’t enough business for everyone, so competition is brutal.  Margin pressure, the buying power and IT security resources of very large competitors, the increasing demands made by large buyers are making it tough for smaller suppliers to grow and expand.

Technology firms – bill review, UR, claims and others – are kind of in the middle. If their tech can reduce expense and be implemented with a high chance of success and relatively low expense, they may do well.  But these companies recognize that IT budgets are tighter than ever, and they MUST be creative around pricing, be clear about deliverables and assume as much of the implementation and maintenance as possible.

Brokers and consultants – you’ve got a choice to make. Either skate along, get carriers/TPAs/vendors to cut prices to the bone, and show your employer clients what a great job you’ve done…or keep pushing for value – fewer injuries, faster return to functionality, lower total claims costs, lower medical expense.

What does this mean for you?

Success favors the prepared.