The 2014 International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissioners (IAIABC) Annual Conference in Austin offered a forum for regulators from around the country to discuss common issues and potential solutions. At this year’s conference, held Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, regulators highlighted a variety of complex issues that they are currently facing. Top issues include:
1. Hospital-Fee Schedules
In states that do not have hospital-fee schedules, the standard for payment is usually “reasonable and customary” charges. The question becomes, how do you determine what is reasonable? Healthcare providers push for billed charges to be the standard, but payers feel that this is an unfair standard because the charges are significantly higher than what providers ultimately accept as payment. Payers are pushing for paid charges to be the standard, but providers argue that preferred provider organization (PPO) contracts heavily influence average charges and that those contracts are based on volume. Providers do not believe that those without contracts should get the benefit of that volume discount.
2. Benefits for Illegal Aliens
Nearly all states extend benefits in some form to illegal alien workers. In some states, benefits are limited to medical benefits, while other states limit benefits to medical and total disability. In most states, there are no limitations to what benefits these workers can receive.
The concern is that some states are awarding these injured workers permanent total disability benefits because their status as illegal aliens means they cannot be put through vocational rehabilitation and returned to work. Attorneys argue that total disability benefits should continue when a light-duty release is obtained because that person cannot legally return to work. States are trying to find a balance that protects the illegal alien workers but doesn’t award them additional benefits simply because of their inability to legally work in the U.S.
3. Ride-Sharing Services
The explosion of ride-sharing services such as Uber is causing concern with regulators around the nation. The big concern from a workers’ compensation standpoint is whether these drivers should be classified as employees of Uber or whether they are independent contractors. Owners of taxi companies argue that allowing these drivers to be classified as independent contractors creates an unfair competitive advantage. States are challenged with whether they can classify these drivers by statute or whether this should be done by courts interpreting current statutes.
4. Treatment Guidelines
Several states, including Washington, Texas and Colorado, have pushed out treatment guidelines for issues such as opioids and lower back injuries. These guidelines have resulted in significantly lower medical costs on claims. The medical community tends to resist implementation of such guidelines as they feel this impedes their ability to render appropriate medical care based on the specifics of the patient. Those that argue for treatment guidelines point to significant research on the effectiveness of certain treatment methods and the dangers associated with opioids above certain dosage levels.
5. Large-Deductible Policies
Regulators feel that there is confusion on the differences between large-deductible policies and self-insurance, with many employers assuming that the two are interchangeable. In some states, courts have ruled that employers under a large-deductible policy cannot have influence over the claims-handling process, so they cannot access items like adjuster files.
The carrier is ultimately responsible for payment of the claims and compliance with the statutes. If the carrier is unable to collect the deductible from the employer, the regulators do not have jurisdiction over the issue. The deductible agreement is outside the parameters of the insurance policy.