Tag Archives: kimberly george

How Bureaucracy Drives WC Costs

Workers’ compensation is one of the most highly regulated lines of insurance. Every form filed and every payment transaction is an opportunity for a penalty. Claims can stay open for 30 years or longer, leading to thousands of transactions on a single claim. Each state presents different sets of compliance rules for payers to follow. This bureaucracy is adding significant cost to the workers’ compensation system, but is it improving the delivery of benefits to injured workers?

Lack of Uniformity

Workers’ compensation is regulated at the state level, which means every state has its own set of laws and rules governing the delivery of indemnity and medical benefits to injured workers. This state-by-state variation also exists in the behind-the-scenes reporting of data. Most states now require some level of electronic data interchange (EDI) from the payers (carriers or self-insured employers). There is no common template between the states; therefore carriers must set up separate data feeds for each state. This is made even more complex when you factor in the multiple sources from which payers must gather this data for their EDI reporting. Data sources include employers, bill review and utilization review vendors. The data from all these vendors must be combined into a single data feed to the states. If states change the data reporting fields, each of the vendors in the chain must also make changes to their feeds.

Variation also exists in the forms that must be filed and notices that must be posted in the workplaces. This means that payers must constantly monitor and update the various state requirements to ensure they stay in full compliance with the regulations.

Unnecessary Burden

Much of the workers’ compensation compliance efforts focus on the collection of data, which is ultimately transmitted to the states. The states want this information to monitor the system and ensure it is operating correctly, but is all this data necessary? Some states provide significant analytical reports on their workers’ compensation systems, but many do little with the data that they collect. In a world concerned about cyber risk, collecting and transmitting claims data creates a significant risk of a breach. If the data is not being used by the states, the risk associated with collecting and transmitting it seems unnecessary.

Another complication is that there are multiple regulators involved in the system for oversight in each jurisdiction. Too often, this means payers have to provide the same information to multiple parties because information sent to the state Department of Insurance is not shared with the state Division of Workers’ Compensation and vice versa.

Some regulation is also outdated based on current technology. Certain states require the physical claims files to be handled within that state. However, with many payers now going paperless, there are no physical claims files to provide. Other states require checks to be issued from a bank within those states. Electronic banking makes this requirement obsolete.

How Is This Driving Costs?

All payers have a significant amount of staffing and other resources devoted to compliance efforts. From designing systems to gathering and entering data, this is a very labor-intensive process. There have not been any studies on the actual costs to the system from these compliance efforts, but they easily equate to millions of dollars each year.

States also impose penalties for a variety of things, including late filing of forms and late and improper payment of benefits. The EDI process makes it possible for these penalties to be automated, but that issue raises the question of the purpose of the penalties altogether. These penalties are issued on a strict liability basis. In other words, either the form was filed in a timely manner or it was not. A payer could be 99% compliant on one million records, but they would be automatically penalized for the 1% of records that were incorrect. In this scenario, are the penalties encouraging compliance, or are they simply a source of revenue for the state? A fairer system would acknowledge where compliance efforts are being made. Rather than penalize every payer for every error, use the penalties for those that fall below certain compliance thresholds (say, 80% or 90% compliance).

The laws themselves can be vague and open to interpretation, which leads to unnecessary litigation expenses. Terms such as “reasonable” and “usual and customary” are intentionally vague, and often states will not provide further definition of these terms.

How Can We Improve?

One of the goals of workers’ compensation regulations is to ensure that injured workers are paid benefits in a timely manner at the correct rate and that they have access to appropriate medical treatment. There was a time when payers had offices located in most states, with adjusters handling only that state. Now, with most payers utilizing multi-state adjusters, payers must be constantly training and educating their adjusters to ensure that they understand all of the nuisances of the different states that they handle.

The ability to give input to regulators is also invaluable, and payers should seek opportunities to engage with organizations to create positive change. Groups such as the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) and the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) provide the opportunity for workers’ compensation stakeholders to interact with regulators on important issues and also provides the opportunity to seek uniformity where it makes sense (EDI, for example).

There needs to be better transparency and communication between all parties in the rule-making process so that regulators have a better understanding of the impact these rules have on payers and the effort required to achieve compliance.

Developing standards in technology would be helpful for both the payers and the states. If your systems cannot effectively communicate with the other systems, you cannot be efficient. Upgrading technology across the industry, particularly on the regulatory side, has to become a priority.

Finally, we need to give any statutory reforms time to make an impact before changing them again because the constant change adds to confusion and drives costs. In the last 10 years, there have been more than 9,000 bills introduced in various jurisdictions related to workers’ compensation. Of those, about 1,000 have actually been turned into law. People expect that these reforms will produce the desired results immediately, when in reality these things often take time to reach their full impact.

These issues were discussed in depth during an “Out Front Ideas With Kimberly and Mark” webinar on Feb. 9, 2016. View the archived webinar at http://www.outfrontideas.com/archives/.

healthcare

Future of Work Comp Healthcare Delivery

Reform is changing healthcare delivery models, but there is a large gap between the healthcare related to workers’ compensation and the group health approach.

As a result of healthcare reform, the industry has experienced significant consolidation of health systems and medical practices, with an added emphasis on patients as consumers of healthcare, all as providers continue to evolve. As employers, though, our message is confused.

We tell employees that we have a great healthcare system for them, encourage them to choose the best physician to meet their needs and remind them to get regular checkups. However, if an employee gets injured, we have a separate system with a separate set of doctors and a separate set of rules.

If employers can find better doctors to treat workers, they can improve the quality of the workers’ compensation system. Employers are not going to get better doctors just by paying more; but, if they can identify which doctors are doing a better job and reward them, results improve.

California’s model has been experimenting with the concept of rewarding doctors for providing superior care, which has resulted in significant cost reduction. Great doctors are actually reducing the amount of medical attention required and, overall, workers’ compensation claims costs. As a result of better care and employee satisfaction, litigation costs have also dropped. Quality matters.

With advancements in technology, reimbursement models, a focus on quality and the movement of connected care, health systems across the U.S. are offering accountable care organizations (ACOs) for employer benefit solutions. Many think mergers and consolidation are a bad thing, however, in this consolidated world where health systems have changed, mergers and consolidation are changing “well care” to “sick care.” By taking a holistic approach, you are able to take a patient from wellness to injury care. Workers’ compensation needs to be part of this discussion. If not, we cause an even greater divide.

This holistic approach is not a new concept. In the 1990s, there were three 24-hour care pilot programs that tried this approach and resulted in lowered cost and improved medical control. At the same time, 10 states also mandated 24-hour pilot studies. Employers generally liked the pilot programs, which resulted in benefits such as increased medical control and reduced costs. On the national front today, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a total worker health program that considers the total person and the factors that affect the individual’s health. The workers’ compensation system could borrow and apply successful elements from these programs.

When you send an injured worker to the best and brightest, you make the workers and their families feel like you are treating them well. This gets the patient to do what the doctor wants and stops the unfortunate spiral of delays in care. Technology is going to refine this approach even further. Technology will enable patients to get in touch with doctors immediately and will make the worker feel like he was properly cared for. This has the potential to be extremely effective and efficient for the system.

When a connected care system is not in place, the gaps in care are leading to needless disability and extended absence. Technology and telemedicine are essential components of this connected care. Gathering and analyzing health data is also important to drive positive behavior and improve overall quality of care.

The patient base is also more complicated, and that is where finding the great doctor comes into play. Today, if you have a patient with a broken arm, you may, in fact, have a patient with a broken arm and diabetes, which is much more difficult to treat. We need to find these great doctors and find systems for them to work with that operate far more efficiently. Technology is a very big part of that.

The current workers’ compensation system is not set up to reimburse for payments under this new model, including the use of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. The system needs to move in this direction. There are simply not enough physicians to see everyone. These healthcare professionals are essential elements of the group system, and the workers’ compensation system could be improved significantly by recognizing the need for these important providers.

Workers’ compensation currently works in silos, and that is an obstacle. The health system ACO model is communicating directly to the employers. As this model becomes adopted, the board room is not seeing the financial benefits just yet. However, when employers decide they want change, change happens. It is just a matter of getting their attention.

Employers are paying attention to the data they receive on the types of health systems. If the data around what is working in group health becomes available to employers, they will evolve.

Holistic care is certainly a trend that is largely becoming a reality. Workers with sedentary lifestyles who become injured on the job bring complicated connections between injury and pre-existing conditions that are hard to separate. It makes sense to treat people as they are—as a whole person. It is very important to try to get all of the systems to work together to treat the employee as one person.

We need a network that drives total employee health, and we can only have that if group health and workers’ compensation can talk to each other. Data is going to drive this evolution. The best-case scenario is if all this wonderful science and data can be put to use to help patients and merge what currently are parallel systems.

These issues were discussed in more details during an Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark webinar, which was broadcast on Sept. 30, 2015. The archived webinar can be viewed here.

20 Work Comp Issues to Watch in 2016

In an “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” webinar broadcast on Jan. 12, 2016, we discussed our thoughts around the issues that the workers’ compensation industry should have on its radar for 2016. What follows is a summary of 20 issues that we expect to affect our industry this year.

  1. Election Cycle

Everyone knows that this is a presidential election year. But election time also means governor and insurance commissioner seats are available. State insurance commissioners are elected in 11 states and appointed in the other 39. In the coming election, there are 12 gubernatorial seats and five insurance commissioner positions to be decided. The workers’ compensation industry needs to be paying attention to these elections because the insurance commissioners can have significant influence over procedures, policies and enforcement in their states.

  1. Viability of Workers’ Compensation

It is important for all of us to consider the continuing viability of workers’ compensation. Is the grand bargain still doing what it was established to do? There is a growing debate around the gaps and shortcomings of workers’ compensation. Our industry needs to engage in a critical analysis of these issues.

  1. Federalization

In October 2015, 10 high-ranking Democrats on key Senate and House committees sent a letter to the Department of Labor asking it to conduct a critical review of state workers’ compensation systems. Some are concerned that this is a sign we could see federal government involvement in state workers’ compensation systems.

In some ways, the federal government is already involved in workers’ compensation. For instance, OSHA has a tremendous impact on workers’ compensation. Medicare Secondary Payer Compliance is another example of federal law affecting the system.

Recent criticisms of workers’ compensation have focused on the vast benefit differences between states. There is also growing concern that workers who are permanently disabled are pushed off workers’ compensation and onto Social Security disability. With Social Security raising solvency concern, lawmakers will be receptive to discussions on how to keep workers’ compensation from shifting long-term claims to the federal government.

This is a substantial issue to watch in the coming years, and there is a significant chance that the federal government will suggest minimum benefit recommendations to the states at some point. This could especially affect states that have hard caps on the total amount of indemnity benefits that an injured worker can receive.

  1. Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will continue to be a subject of discussion in 2016.

The implementation date of the high-cost, employer-sponsored health plans tax, dubbed the “Cadillac tax,” was recently delayed from 2018 to 2020. It imposes an excise tax of 40% on health plans whose value is more than $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for a family. Regardless of the delay, employer-sponsored benefit plans have evolved over the past five years in preparation to avoid the additional tax. The formerly rich benefit plans were dropped in an effort to provide benefit plans within ACA’s requirements and often replaced by higher-deducible plans with reduced benefits.

NCCI and WCRI have both conducted studies on how the ACA has affected workers’ compensation. Results have not conclusively tied treatment delays or actual cost shifting to workers’ compensation. We believe continuing studies by these organizations and others are important to evaluate the impact of ACA on workers’ compensation.

Other issues that should be monitored include consolidation of health systems, providers and insurers. In 2015, there was more than $700 billion of consolidation in the healthcare marketplace. This is driven, in part, by the ACA, because scale and size assist providers with efficiency, purchasing power and the need to provide a continuum of care.

Another issue where the ACA could affect workers’ compensation is changing reimbursement models. Medicare is looking to shift into a value-based reimbursement model, and many state fee schedules are based on Medicare rates.

Although not specifically related to ACA, a healthcare topic to keep an eye on is drug pricing. Drug pricing will continue to be a topic within the media, PBMs, employer benefit managers, health plan experts and the political arena. Prescription drug pricing increased more than 10% in 2015, and this trend is expected to continue. This has an impact on the cost of workers’ compensation claims.

  1. Holes in Workers’ Compensation

What many people do not realize is that workers’ compensation protections are not available to all workers within the U.S. In 14 states, smaller employers with five employees or fewer do not have to secure coverage. In 17 states, there is no legal requirement for coverage of agricultural workers. Half of the states do not require coverage for domestic workers, and five states specifically exclude coverage for these employees. There are also states that create exceptions for certain types of workers, such as state employees in Alabama. Finally, we have seen from court cases around the country that occupational diseases that take several years to develop are often barred by the statute of limitations, leaving workers with no recourse for benefits.

These holes are yet one more thing that critics point to when talking about the inadequacy of workers’ compensation. The occupational disease issue is particularly concerning because it is very easy to question the fairness of barring a claim under the statute of limitations and, at the same time, denying the injured worker the ability to pursue a claim in civil court under the exclusive remedy protections of workers’ compensation. This is another area where we will not be surprised to see the federal government give recommendations.

  1. Blurred Lines Between Workers’ Compensation and Group Health

The employee health model is evolving. Employers are finding the need to provide a consistent healthcare experience for their workforce and plan members. Employers would like to find a model that provides both quality care and consistency for their employees, regardless of whether the need for treatment arises from a work injury or at home. Because a healthy workforce is a productive workforce, employers also feel that there is a need to tie health and productivity together.

We will continue to see health systems build accountable care organizations (ACO) and enter the health plan, insurance and risk-bearing arena with the goal of directly selling to and partnering with employers. ACOs are an attractive model for employers supporting a healthier workforce by extending the culture of health philosophy from work to the home for their employees and their families.

Mental health is a top driver for absence across employers and not simply a health cost concern. Mental healthcare should be as important as physical healthcare and is currently a focus of population health and employer programs. Employers are looking for healthcare models, which consider the person as a whole and offer consistent, engaging behavioral health and wellbeing programs for the workforce.

Workers’ compensation key stakeholders should be a part of the evolving health model discussions and early stage planning so as not to be left in the dark as health models change.

  1. Options to Workers’ Compensation

We all know that Texas has a unique system that allows employers to completely opt out of workers’ compensation benefits. The term “opt-out” refers only to the Texas system. Employers in Oklahoma have an option to workers’ compensation that allows them to develop a private benefit plan that replaces state-mandated workers’ compensation. It is this concept of an option that is looking to spread to other states. Bills on this issue will be reintroduced in Tennessee and South Carolina this year, and other states have begun preliminary discussions.

Some employers feel that they can provide better benefits to their injured workers at a lower cost with these option programs. Others are concerned that these programs lack the controls and oversight of state workers’ compensation. One thing is certain: This issue is not going away any time soon. Perhaps these discussions around options to workers’ compensation can lead to discussions about workers’ compensation reform, including employer medical control, increasing thresholds of compensability and reducing the bureaucracy of the workers’ comp system.

  1. Evolving Claims Model

There are significant discussions around the evolving claims model. The industry realizes that we need to focus more on the injured worker as a consumer. The model needs to focus more on advocacy, but what does this really mean? Should there be a person who assists the injured worker in understanding the claims process, or is there a need to change the culture of our industry to be less adversarial?

Other parts of the evolving model involve who actually touches the claim. Are there elements that could be automated? Should there be more specialization with different individuals performing different tasks instead of the current model where the claims adjuster is a generalist performing multiple tasks across multiple jurisdictions?

The claim handling model also needs to adapt to new technology and the way in which different generations want communication. Some injured workers prefer text instead of e-mail or phone calls. Some like to access claims information in an app on their mobile device or simply, 24/7, as they want it that moment. The model must evolve to take full advantage of new technology and communication methods.

The March 15 “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” webinar will focus on the evolving claims model and include guests who are passionate about an advocacy-based design.

  1. Florida Supreme Court

Over the last two years, four cases challenging the constitutionality of various aspects of the Florida workers’ compensation statutes have made it to the state’s Supreme Court. The first of those cases, Padgett, ended in late December when the Supreme Court declined to review it. That case had been thrown out on procedural grounds during the appeal process, so the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court never addressed the underlying constitutional challenge.

There are three cases still to be decided:

  • Westphal, which deals with caps on temporary disability benefits.
  • Castellanos, which addresses limitations on attorney fees.
  • Stahl, which focuses on post MMI medical co-payments and the elimination of permanent partial disability payments.

The expectation is that the Florida Supreme Court will address all of these cases in 2016, but nobody knows when that will occur.

  1. Bureaucracy

Workers’ compensation is one of the most highly regulated lines of insurance, and regulators are increasingly aggressive in pursuing fines and penalties. Every form filed and every payment transaction is an opportunity for a penalty. EDI allows regulators to automate the fines and penalties. Some states perform retrospective audits on activity five to 10 years in the past. The IMR process in California adds administrative cost to claims without necessarily improving outcomes, and states with self-imposed penalties may be driving up the cost of doing business beyond the benefit of the penalty payment. Lobbying is becoming an increasingly important area for payers and service providers to consider.

The significant costs associated with the bureaucracy of workers’ compensation regulations are not improving the outcomes on claims. Most of the money collected from the fines and penalties is paid to the states. The programs may cover the operating costs of state workers’ compensation division and not be paid to the injured worker or medical provider.

This topic is an important issue to watch in 2016 and will be the topic of our Feb. 9 “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” webinar.

  1. Regulatory Change

There are four states in particular that we should be keeping an eye on in terms of potential regulatory reforms in 2016:

New York

Employers in New York are continuing to push for additional workers’ compensation reforms to reduce their costs because the savings projected with the last round of reforms never fully materialized. Whether there is enough momentum to get a bill through this year remains to be seen, but the efforts are there.

Florida

In Florida, the situation is going to depend on what the state Supreme Court does with the cases mentioned earlier. If any of those cases punch holes in the constitutionality of the workers’ compensation law, then the legislature is going to need to address this. Again, this is a waiting game.

Illinois

Illinois Gov. Rauner has made it a priority to enact workers’ compensation reforms to reduce employer costs. But his efforts have been blocked by the state legislature, and there is a budget stalemate in the state. There has been much political back-and-forth on this budget and the workers’ compensation reforms. It remains to be seen if the governor has the political muscle to get his legislation passed.

California

Ever since the Schwarzenegger workers’ compensation reforms in 2004, and continuing with SB 863 passed by Gov. Brown, the California legislature has been trying to undermine these workers’ compensation reforms. Every year, multiple bills are passed by the legislature, and every year both Gov. Schwarzenegger and Gov. Brown have vetoed those bills. Gov. Brown is committed to preserving his workers’ compensation reforms, and there are three years left on his term. Once he is gone, there is concern about what could happen with workers’ compensation in California. But, for now, significant change is not expected.

  1. Talent Acquisition

Talent acquisition and retention is probably the biggest issue facing the entire insurance industry. Consider:

  • 25% of insurance industry workforce will retire by 2018 (McKinsey)
  • There are 2.3 million workers in the insurance industry. More than 1 million will retire in the next 10 years, and 400,000 positions will be left open by 2020 (Deloitte and Jackson Group)
  • Workers over the age of 45 represent 48% of the insurance workforce

Are we doing enough with colleges to show the career opportunities in the insurance industry? Although more colleges and universities are offering risk management programs, the reality is that there are very few of these programs nationwide. Our industry needs to support these programs with both grants and internship opportunities.

In workers’ compensation, we need to be looking at the role of the examiner. Are there tasks that we could automate and reduce workload need? Millennials say they want to work with purpose. The role of the claims adjuster is to assist injured workers in their recovery. Could we be doing more to highlight the positive aspects of the claims adjuster role to make it more attractive to millennials?

We also need to be looking at ways to be flexible with work schedules and at whether someone is tied to the home office or able to work from a remote location. Finally, we need to continue to focus on promoting diversity and inclusion within our workforce.

In May, we will be doing an “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” webinar devoted to this topic.

  1. Market Conditions

You cannot forecast the coming year for the workers’ compensation industry without talking about rates. Recently, for the first time in years, the Fed increased interest rates. This is good news, but the change is still insignificant and will not have a material impact on the workers’ comp industry. Because investment opportunities are limited for carriers, they continue to be very diligent with their underwriting. What does this mean for rates? Right now, the market is relatively stable. Accounts with good loss histories could see steady to slightly decreased rates, while accounts with poor loss histories will likely see slight increases. Overall, significant rate changes across the nation are not expected in the coming year.

  1. Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics have been a buzz word in our industry for a number of years. Most data models identify at-risk claims, which may benefit from additional intervention in terms of nurse case management or a more skilled adjuster. The goal of the intervention(s) is to change the trajectory of the claim, to do something different than in similar prior claims, so the result is improved over the past experience. Although most payers reflect having predictive analytics and a variety of models available, there are limited published results on the outcome and effectiveness. Watch in 2016 to see if organizations begin sharing outcomes as a way to market their business or provide industry thought leadership on what is working and should be considered to drive success.

There is a need to evolve predictive analytics and big data models so that some human tasks are automated. Instead of just identifying cases where intervention is necessary, we should also identify claims where minimal intervention is needed. This approach frees resources and allows attention on claims, which will benefit from the touch. Future claims models will benefit from analytics using learning models similar to IBM Watson-type smart analytics.

  1. OSHA

OSHA continues to be a challenge for employers. Going into 2016, OSHA has increased reporting and recordkeeping requirements. It is also increasing its focus on certain industries, including healthcare, and employers are seeing a significant increase in fines. This is an area that is constantly evolving.

Our April 5 “Out Front Ideas with Kimberly and Mark” webinar will focus on these continuing developments and discuss the continuing issues that employers should track.

  1. Utilization Review

There is industry buzz and sidebar conversations around utilization review (UR) and the current approach deployed by employers, payers and service providers. Physicians are asking more than ever how they can help streamline treatment requests, obtain decision outcomes electronically and more quickly and provide timely, appropriate care for patients.

Utilization review should ensure that injured workers receive appropriate care within the right setting and for the correct duration. But what is the right UR model? Should all treatment be subject to UR or select treatment requests? Is UR a process strictly addressing the request for treatment and medical documentation submitted against guidelines of care or collaborative with adjusters, providers and the injured workers? Are denials of care driving up litigation unnecessarily? Do utilization review referral triggers change if the physician providing care is part of a high-performance network or known to be a top-performing physician? These are questions being raised by industry veterans and newcomers alike and are likely worthy of a review and further dialogue.

In the consumer-driven health world where we find ourselves, there is greater interest from injured workers to understand treatment options and outcomes. If not a part of UR, is your case management or claim model providing medical treatment option education, inclusive of outcomes awareness? Transparency is becoming increasingly important to consumers.

  1. Exclusive Remedy

Plaintiff attorneys are always trying to find ways around the exclusive remedy protections of workers’ compensation, and these efforts are becoming increasingly successful. In early January 2016, the District Court of Appeals in California allowed an injured worker to pursue a civil claim against a utilization review provider because the provider failed to warn him about the potential risks of medication withdrawal.

More and more, judges are allowing such litigation to survive a motion to dismiss on summary judgement because of workers’ compensation exclusive remedy protections. This creates enormous costs for employers and carriers, which then must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or more defending such lawsuits and face the risk of a jury award that could be worth millions. In addition, an employer’s liability award based on the “intentional actions” of the employer may have issues with insurance coverage. The entire industry should be paying close attention to this area of increased litigation around exclusive remedy.

  1. ICD-10

The ICD-10 medical classification came along last year with a lot of hype and a significant amount of work effort to update systems and train teams. There was concern that the new diagnosis codes would result in slowed claims processes and treatment decisions. Thus far, workers’ compensation key stakeholders report little to no impact from the change. This may be because states did not mandate the use of ICD-10 for workers’ compensation and most organizations continue to accept ICD-9. Bill review receipt to pay timeframes have not lengthened, and e-billing rejections did not increase, which were two areas to watch after the ICD-10 go-live.

In 2019, Medicare plans to roll out an incentive-based reimbursement model tied to patient outcomes (MACRA). The American Medical Association believes this will be a significant reimbursement change for physicians. Changes to Medicare reimbursement could impact workers’ compensation because some state fee schedules are Medicare based.

History has proven Medicare does not always follow through with what it says it is going to do in terms of changing reimbursement models, but the MACRA implementation is an issue worth monitoring.

  1. Marijuana

Thus far, New Mexico has been the only state allowing medical marijuana for treatment under workers’ compensation. But as the use of medical marijuana spreads, it is inevitable that we will see other states take on this issue. The answer is simple –if states put something in their statutes barring medical marijuana under workers’ compensation, then that solves the problems. Some medical marijuana states have already indicated that insurance is not responsible covering medical marijuana. State legislators and regulators can stop this before it becomes a legitimate problem.

The bigger issue is employment practice concerns. Many expect the federal government to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug, possibly by the end of this current administration. Once that happens, it will no longer be an “illegal” drug. Employers are going to need to adapt and drug test for impairment rather than just testing the presence of the drug. Standards are going to need to be developed on what constitutes “impairment” with marijuana. The science needs to catch up with the realities of this new normal when it comes to marijuana in the U.S.

  1. On-Demand Economy

The on demand economy is creating new concerns about what constitutes an employee/employer relationship. Is an Uber driver an employee of Uber or an independent contractor? What about a repair person you hire through Angie’s List?

While the on-demand economy is a newer dynamic, determining what constitutes independent contractor vs. an employee has been a challenge for the workers’ compensation industry for many years. In July 2015, the Department of Labor issued an interpretive memorandum indicating that the DOL feels “most workers classified as independent contractors are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s broad definitions.”

So perhaps the issue to watch here is not so much the on-demand economy, but instead whether we are going to see the Department of Labor push for fewer and fewer workers to be classified as independent contractors. This could have a significant impact on many industries as well as significantly changing the business model of services like Uber and Lyft.

Healthcare’s Lessons for Workers’ Comp

The healthcare industry is going through seismic changes today as it tries to control costs while providing the best care possible to all patients. In workers’ compensation, the changes in healthcare are affecting us in ways we may not recognize. It behooves us to examine what’s occurring on the broader stage of healthcare and what we might learn from the great healthcare experiment that will help us improve workers’ compensation.

During the recent National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference (NWCDC) in Las Vegas, a panel of workers’ compensation professionals comprising me, Kimberly George (senior vice president and senior healthcare adviser of Sedgwick Claims Management Services) and Lisa Kelly (senior workers’ compensation manager for Boeing), discussed this very topic: healthcare transformation and how it can help workers’ compensation achieve better outcomes and risk management.

What is happening in healthcare that can affect workers’ compensation?

  • The drive to accountable care. This term refers to providers being “accountable” for the outcomes of the healthcare they deliver – not just for providing the services. “Accountable care organizations” of providers have been created and have also given rise to other configurations such as medical homes – centralizing patients’ care through the primary care physician.
  • Integration of care. There is broad recognition that when services are integrated between facilities, specialties and technology, it is finally possible to deliver truly coordinated care and reap the benefits of improved quality, safety and efficiency. With integrated care, from the onset of a patient’s health episode, all clinical teams are able to communicate, monitor and track the patient’s progress.
  • Pay-for-value versus pay-for-service. Healthcare payers are shifting to payment models that reward higher-quality care and better outcomes, vs. the old fee-for-service model that paid for each transaction.

While there is no indication that our state-mandated workers’ compensation system is moving toward a pay-for-value model at this point, there is a growing awareness and movement toward recognizing the value of integrating care with high-performing physicians and linking services through technology and care coordination to achieve a more efficient and effective treatment plan and a faster return-to-work. It is this area in which we can immediately move workers’ compensation medical management forward. Indeed, that movement is already occurring.

Curing the Patient, Curing the System

Traditionally, workers’ compensation focuses on getting injured workers to the closest provider, instead of the one that delivers the best patient experience and produces the best outcomes. For years, payers have wondered, “Who are the best doctors, and how do I get my injured workers to them?”

Physician scorecards (measuring the outcomes through the life of a claim tied to the treating physician) provide the answer.

Physician scorecards identify physicians who produce superior outcomes at less cost. During a five-year period, a Harbor Health Systems program found that physicians with superior outcomes reduced medical costs by an average of 20%. Previous studies have shown that treatment by these physicians also shortens the duration of the claim and reduces indemnity costs.

The discussion at NWCDC shared the latest data about the results from using these best-in-class physicians, and what we have discovered matters:

  • Recent results document that the higher-ranked physicians produce significantly lower duration of claims, lower claims costs, lower litigation rates, fewer TTD (temporary total disability) days, lower indemnity costs and lower reopening rates.
  • There is a striking difference between one-star physicians and five-star physicians within the workers’ compensation industry.
  • One-star primary care physicians (lowest score being one, highest score being five) had an average cost of $244,246 per claim, while five-star physicians had reduced the cost to $15,196 per claim. This data supports the concept that getting appropriate treatment faster and eliminating unnecessary care saves money on the claims side while getting an injured worker recovered and returning to work faster.
  • With primary care physicians treating injured workers, the average duration of a claim (in days) for five-star physicians was 263; for one-star primary care physicians, the average claim duration amounted to a staggering 2,389 days.
  • The difference in indemnity costs was eye-opening, as well: With five-star primary care physicians, indemnity costs were approximately $5,433. With one-star physicians, indemnity costs skyrocketed to $75,829.

What’s Next?

The ability to use the best physicians for injured workers and to link together superior providers throughout the continuum of care, integrated by technologically enabled communications, is the new goal for workers’ compensation.

The technology now exists to accurately and effectively measure claims outcomes by physician, to get injured workers to see these physicians quickly, to link rapidly with best-in-class ancillary providers and to power the systems to keep the care plan on track for a fast, safe recovery.

Mere cost containment is no longer enough. Workers’ compensation professionals can and must work together to achieve better outcomes – for our organizations and, most importantly, for injured workers. If we focus on curing the patient, we will cure the system, as well.

How Health Tech Is Changing Work Comp

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) changed both the dialogue and dynamics of healthcare in this country. It has also brought employers a new set of challenges and opportunities.

Seemingly uncontrollable medical costs have plagued virtually all businesses in recent decades. The medical component of claim costs now accounts for well over half of the total workers’ compensation cost make-up.

In addition, as more individuals have signed up for coverage under the ACA legislation, the demand on the system for healthcare services is becoming increasingly strained. This demand, coupled with a projected shortage of physicians, has made access to care a more prominent workers’ compensation concern.

The offshoot of such pressures and constraints is a strong and unyielding focus on healthcare technology developments and advancements. The rapidity with which such innovations are being made, and the advances planned in the healthcare treatment and delivery landscape in the coming years, are phenomenal. Undoubtedly, technology will play an increasingly important role in maintaining employees’ well-being and fostering their recovery in the future.

Some of the technological advancements that are available today and on the verge of exploding onto the healthcare scene include telemedicine, Google Glass, wearable monitoring devices, Internet-connected sensors, 3D printing and robotic devices. These are designed to increase the efficiencies associated with delivering healthcare and maximize the providers’ time and talents.

Below are some additional details on these innovations and the advantages they can bring to the workers’ compensation industry.

Telemedicine
The American Telemedicine Association defines telehealth as remote healthcare technology designed to deliver clinical services. This could include alternatives ranging from medical providers consulting patients by phone to performing robotic surgery from a remote location. Telemedicine can certainly benefit injured or ill employees in situations such as nurse triaging and clinical consultation. For example, using telehealth, a nurse at a remote location can evaluate symptoms and determine whether an injured employee needs to be seen directly or can be discharged with instructions for homecare. Telehealth can also be used to reduce or even eliminate wait times and thus, appointment costs. A patient visiting an occupational healthcare provider who needs an evaluation from an orthopedist could have it right on the spot via a conference call during which the test results are projected onto a screen visible to the specialist.

Google Glass
Google Glass technology is being used today to maximize the time and talents of specialty providers and bring high-level expertise to remote areas of the country. One of its most valuable applications is in surgery. For example, a surgeon in New York could assist a surgical team in rural Oregon and show them precisely where to make an incision for a given procedure. Google Glass can also increase a physician’s efficiency in seeing and assessing patient conditions. A patient’s electronic health records could be displayed on Google Glass as a physician is conducting an initial assessment. Information such as medical history or current symptoms and medications could be reviewed in real-time as the physician converses with the patient and determines ensuing treatment. Moreover, in coming years, patients may use Google Glass to assess and evaluate physicians based on available information and reviews appearing on their own display.

Wearable monitoring devices
A number of wearable healthcare monitoring devices have flooded the market and have become popular among a select set of consumers. They are frequently worn around the wrist and can monitor physical information, such as calories burned, steps taken, activity, blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns and other defined metrics. These devices help increase awareness among users. For example, if a morning run is missed and step count is down, the individual may be more inclined to take the stairs, park farther away from the building or consume fewer calories. The next step is for users to begin sharing this information with their medical providers as a way of becoming more engaged healthcare consumers. Such information would allow a physician to customize a healthcare treatment plan specifically for that individual as opposed to relying on more general treatment guidelines.

Internet-connected sensors 
Sensors are being used and will become more readily available in the future as a way of monitoring and communicating an individual’s condition. For example, an individual who has recently undergone surgery may have sensors in his shoes to send an alert if he becomes unstable, thereby increasing the risk of a fall. Such sensors may trigger an alert to a smartphone, dashboard or other monitoring device signaling that the individual needs assistance. With the additional capabilities of these devices, resources can be deployed where and when needed, allowing for more effective and efficient care.

3D printing
3D printing is perhaps one of the most fascinating and promising medical advancements. Using 3D printing, experts have produced replicas of human hearts, which allow surgeons to perform a procedure in advance of an actual operation, improving quality and outcomes. 3D printing is also being used to produce human skin. This technology can be a tremendous benefit to burn victims and can reduce recovery time considerably. It also shows promise in aiding back surgeries. Previously, titanium plates were inserted between disks, and bone would grow around these plates. 3D printing allows the production of cellular structures that can become part of the bone growth itself. Such advancements are expected to reduce the need for repeat surgeries.

Robotic devices
Robotic devices are being used now and will likely become more common. One of their current uses is to help extend the efficiency and effectiveness of nurses and allow them to focus more specifically on patient needs and priorities. For example, when a nurse is recording vital signs, a robot can be used to retrieve supplies, allowing the nurse to spend more time providing valuable patient care. Looking further into the future, robots may be used to provide more extended patient care.

These types of medical technology advancements are helping to create a culture of connected health that will redefine our treatment and delivery system. While new challenges and risks will arise, technology will play a prominent role in tomorrow’s healthcare. In the not-too-distant future, the amount of real-time information and communication that can be shared instantaneously is hard to imagine. This will allow for more productive and cost-effective interactions among patients, providers, employers, payers and caretakers. A more effective and efficient healthcare system characterized by improved quality and outcomes is a win-win situation for virtually all workers’ compensation stakeholders, and one that could quickly become a reality in today’s world.

Preparation breeds optimism, and employers have the opportunity to prepare for the roll-out of the new healthcare legislation using digital health advancements. The suite of health technology tools, companies offering solutions in this space and the advanced products described above are all part of the newly evolving digital health arena, and undoubtedly these advancements will be part of a broader solution.

In looking ahead, the convergence of digital health solutions with evolving healthcare delivery models has the potential to significantly improve access to care, address quality concerns and assist with costs. This would enable consumers to become more engaged and active in their health and, in turn, lead to improved health and productivity for employers. This would be a workers’ compensation offshoot by which we could all stand.

This article first appeared at WorkCompWire.