Tag Archives: medical claim

How to Win at Work Comp Claims

So many people want to blame the injured worker for the high cost of workers’ compensation; they say the worker doesn’t want to get better.

But consider these two patients, limping into two different medical clinics with the same complaint. Both have trouble walking and appear to require hip surgery. The first patient is examined within the hour, is X-rayed the same day and has a time booked for surgery the following week. The second sees the physician after waiting three weeks for an appointment, then waits eight weeks to see a specialist, then gets an X-ray, which isn’t reviewed for another week, and finally has surgery scheduled for six months later, pending the review of a utilization board, which will determine the employee’s remaining value to his employer. Why the different treatment for the two patients? The first is a Golden Retriever taken to a veterinarian. The second is an injured employee entering the workers’ compensation system.

Maybe we need to send our injured employees to a good vet!

The No. 1 cost driver of a workers’ compensation claim is that the injured worker is not getting better. But the sad reality is that the injured worker isn’t even given an honest opportunity. Everyone just wants to kick the can down the work comp road, believing the best way to save money is by limiting treatment opportunities.

Look at back pain, which is the most expensive industrial injury and the most common cause of disability in patients under 45 years of age. More than five million Americans are disabled by back pain, and more than half of those will develop a permanent condition. Studies show that direct healthcare expenditures exceed $20 billion annually, and indirect expenditures associated with back-related injuries are greater than $30 billion. Disorders of the musculoskeletal system are the most common causes of absence from work in both men and women between the ages of 30 and 65. Back pain is the dominating subgroup and is the second leading cause of workplace absenteeism.

See Also: How Should Workers’ Compensation Evolve?

There are plenty of statistics showing the direct costs associated with occupational back injuries average $37,000. Indirect costs range from $147,000 to $300,000.

It therefore follows that if an employer could redirect its resources and attention to the aggressive treatment of the acute back pain patient, with a view to preventing chronicity, the company would be able to reduce costs.

In fact, we have a proven system that has direct and indirect cost savings; however, it requires the employer to take control of its workers’ comp group and change the way business is being done.

Unfortunately, only a small minority of employers play at the tip of the spear and way too many employers who sit on the sideline and expect everyone else to take care of the issues.

So, we are challenging you, the employer, to get in the game, change your team line-up and win the game of managing your workers’ compensation division.

Here’s how:

Once the injured employee enters the world of workers’ compensation as either a medical, indemnity or future medical claim, the healthcare professional becomes one of the key decision makers in the employee’s recovery and return-to-work. Usually, the professional helps the injured worker recover through minimum symptomatic treatment protocols authorized by utilization review boards and return to her job in a modified duty capacity with appropriate restrictions.

The employee comes back to work, with restrictions, and in most cases the safety supervisor or human resources person assists in monitoring the employee to verify that the healthcare professional’s recommendations are being reasonably accommodated.

In a perfect world, this scenario may work. The employee recovers, the medical bills are paid and the work tasks are re-evaluated. However, in most cases, once the employee is injured, delayed treatment ensues, the injured worker develops co-morbidities associated with his injury, an applicant’s attorney gets involved and the reserves then begin escalating. At this point, any optimal solution becomes a distant thought. The only player who has the incentive to change the game is the one paying the bills… the employer!!

How can an employer change the workers’ compensation cycle to bring about solutions for all the players involved? It takes moral courage to change your team line-up and manage your claims better. Can it be done? Absolutely, and we’ve done it.

Employers have historically taken an adversarial approach to workers’ compensation claims even though the law is on the employee’s side. It makes sense to immediately engage the injured employee and set the expectations for recovery. This is part of the overall strategy to create a claims handling “team” that will align with the core competencies of the business environment. Setting the team line-up to implement an active approach to claims management will be a game changer.

As an employer, here’s an outline of what this would look like:

  1. Identify your team members; business unit manager, risk manager, safety professional, claims examiner manager, claims examiner, medical director, healthcare providers, nurse case manager, legal counsel and medical fitness consultant.
  2. Have a prominent seat at the workers’ compensation round table, whether you are fully insured or a self-insured employer.
  3. Know the workers’ compensation claim life cycle and your role in influencing outcomes.
  4. Be sure the claim examiners on your files know and understand the employer’s risk management goals and objectives.
  5. Have essential job functions (EJFs) for all positions readily accessible for the healthcare professionals and claims examiner.
  6. Perform quarterly claim review meetings on all open and recently closed claims. The meetings should include your entire workers’ comp team, so discussions can progress around treating the whole person and not just the affected body part. Remember, at some point a body part adds to the potentially new claim of cumulative trauma.
  7. As the employer, limit the claim examiner case load to 100 claims or less per examiner. This allows for more in-depth understanding of claim resolution solutions in addition to claims handling by regulatory deadlines.
  8. Make sure your insurance broker supports your desire to incorporate a medical aftercare program managed by a medical fitness organization that understands the workers’ compensation process and your strategic claims management system.

Savvy Health Solutions has worked strategically with employers as part of their claims management team and addresses the whole person by focusing on improving overall strength and flexibility, postural responsiveness to activities of daily living and a motivational element that embeds the components of the program into sustainable lifestyle changes. Savvy has found that, the sooner an employee begins the program, the quicker the employee is returned to full duties, and the claim is closed:

  1. The safety person, now having a more comprehensive understanding of musculoskeletal issues, can revisit the company’s job hazard analysis for accuracy and completeness. This technique breaks each job down into individual tasks to identify hazards and focuses on the worker, the task, the tools and the work environment. The analysis is also a key component for compliance with OSHA’s injury and illness prevention program requirements.
  2. The claims examiner is educated on the work environment. With fewer claims to handle, the examiner can spend extra time on the job to better understand the work environment from an employee’s perspective. Essential job functions and job hazard analysis have more meaning once seen in action. Claims examiners will begin to understand how people do the work, in addition to meeting the expectations of the Department of Workers’ Compensation in managing a claim.
  3. A team approach helps the claims examiner to think more like a business person. Outside consultants, like Savvy Health Solutions, help the employer see a new way of claims resolution and prevention of further injuries.
  4. The effectiveness of the workers’ compensation team can be measured with metrics created as part of your annual insurance renewal process/contract or as part of your third party administrator contract renewal.

Too many internal silos and “leaving it to the claims experts” can run against a culture of treating employees with respect and dignity when injured. The employer needs to be the key stakeholder in the process, having the same key performance indicators (KPIs) for workers’ compensation as it is done for safety metrics and profitability.

This methodology is counterintuitive to the typical workers’ compensation claims handling structure. Success starts with the employer and involves every single team member, business unit manager, risk manager, safety professional, claims examiner manager, claims examiner, medical director, healthcare providers, nurse case manager, legal counsel, insurance agents and brokers and medical fitness consultants.

Developing a winning line-up with your team will improve your ability to control costs and reach a desired outcome for the employee first, and then the organization. Because when the injured employee recovers from his injury, restores normal function and improves quality of life, then everyone wins.

New Way to Lower Healthcare Costs

Managers are more likely to limit rental cars to $30 a day than limit an open heart surgery to $100,000 — for ethical and regulatory reasons, many executives steer clear of involving themselves in healthcare decisions, other than selecting the broadest possible network access. But few expenses that executives know so little about matter more than those involved in healthcare do.

This article speaks to a cultural shift that could provide tremendous impact for employers. They can now lower costs while also improving outcomes.

Until now, employers have used two main strategies:

–They offloaded costs to employees, hoping that giving them more skin in the game would reduce their spending on healthcare. But the continuing lack of transparency about healthcare costs, combined with costs that rose faster than employers shifted them, resulted in insurance picking up more cost and consumerism being driven down.

–Employers also invested in wellness programs. But wellness programs are most attractive to the already healthy. And they attempt to reduce how often enrollees encounter the system. But we know that everyone will encounter care at some point. It is each encounter’s volume and cost that is at the heart of this out-of-control system.

The new, better approach was demonstrated in a whirlwind, 48-hour trip I took with some incredible healthcare leaders.

First, we met with the executives of Rosen Hotels in Orlando, who have saved hundreds of millions of dollars compared with average employer healthcare costs. Rosen’s single-digit employee turnover would delight most employers, but it is spectacular in the hospitality industry. Rosen achieves this turnover with a benefit-rich plan most employees would drool over: e.g., no-cost prescriptions, $750 max hospital out-of-pocket.

How does Rosen accomplish this? First, its healthcare thinking is based on what it wants to achieve rather than what it has to provide. Beginning with the CEO, Rosen’s top executives really care about every one of their employees, as evidenced by the more than a few employees who have been there for 40-plus years. (Remember, this is a hotel chain, not a hedge fund with six-digit salaries). The strategies deployed vary, but they mainly support making the highest value care as accessible as possible.

Value—a fair return or equivalent in goods, services or money in exchange for something—is seriously lacking in American healthcare. Rosen took it upon itself to provide healthcare whenever and wherever possible, using its clout to lower costs. The company arranged special prescription drug discounts with Walmart. Rosen has on-site medical directors who personally engage with each employee’s health. The directors visit employees in the hospital and help arrange home delivery of costly specialty medications from lower-cost pharmacies. The company monitors and supports sick employees’ recovery and progress. It also built a health-and-wellness center for all employees and dependents with primary care, prescriptions, fitness instruction and more. I know all this sounds expensive, but the impact far outweighs the cost.

The second part of our adventure involved a flight to the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman, just south of Cuba, a beautiful tropical setting an hour-long flight from Miami (and with direct flights from a dozen other U.S. cities). The morning after our late arrival, we enjoyed the beautiful sunrise for exactly 20 seconds before we were bused to a facility called Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). The single building on 200 acres (with significant future expansion plans) is clean, new and functional, though it is not nearly as grand as many U.S. mega-hospitals. Now two years old, HCCI is a joint venture between Ascension Health (a non-profit U.S. health system) and Narayana Health, a top Indian health system based in Bangalore. HCCI’s Indian roots are very important, because that country has no national healthcare or insurance system. The Indians have a novel approach to healthcare: You pay for it.

Narayana Health, which has achieved Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation, performs a volume of procedures unprecedented in most hospitals. This volume is produced by a highly experienced team with quality outcomes that equal or exceed the best U.S. hospitals, but the team does it at far lower cost. Dr. Devi Shetty, Narayana’s founder and a cardiologist who has performed more than 25,000 heart surgeries, is focused on reducing the price of an open heart surgery to $800. (It currently sits around $1,400). Compare that with a 2008 Millman report that pegs U.S. open heart surgery costs around $324,000.

Some employers—Carnival Cruise Lines, for example—are so convinced of HCCI’s value (better health outcomes at far lower cost) that they will pay for all travel, including a family member’s accommodations for the length of a stay, and often waive an employee’s out-of-pocket costs associated with the procedure.

While HCCI’s pricing is higher than its Indian sister facility, many people could afford to pay for HCCI’s care with their credit card, if that were necessary.

HCCI charges a single, bundled fee that covers all associated costs, plus the cost of most complications — the director says, “Why should the patient pay for something if it was our mistake?” Compare that attitude with that at U.S. facilities, which have financial incentives to deliver as much care for as long as possible, and which get paid more if they make mistakes. HCCI’s upfront pricing model creates a serious incentive for efficiency and quality, because the facility is financially responsible for complications, infections and extra tests.

Patients and purchasers (i.e. employers and unions) should realize that nearly all U.S. healthcare—hospitals, doctors, drug companies and even insurance carriers—are structured to benefit from more care, rather than good, efficient or innovative care.

This means that purchasers and patients must use any available levers to get the best healthcare value they can. As Rosen and HCCI have proven, those levers are increasingly available.

Stop Being Clueless About Workers’ Comp

Despite the brouhaha over the ProPublica articles that say companies are unfairly denying treatment to injured workers to save on costs, I still regard the high cost of workers’ compensation (for those companies that do have high costs) mostly as a management problem.

The companies I see — which are the ones that have huge problems — are clueless about workers’ comp. They turn their claims and injury process over to their claims administrator or carrier, hardly participating in the process, then they blame the TPA or carrier when costs go up even though they have done nothing internally to manage safety or injuries.

These companies never budget for workers’ comp management, don’t staff the risk department (if there even is a department) properly. THAT would cost money, and our headcount would increase, they say. Often, if they do have staff, they do not allow the staff to attend conferences or seminars, join organizations or purchase resources. THAT would cost money, they say.

Sometimes, their brokers offer to help by providing consulting resources, but the companies with high workers’ comp costs do not see the merit in such an approach. I worked with a major entertainment facility, speaking with them once per week, on behalf of their broker, hoping to gain insight. I offered to consult with the staff because I am a consultant: Getting to the root of the problem, finding the cost drivers and fixing them is what I do. They did not need a consultant. Then, one day I said I could “help them develop their training program,” and they accepted instantly! I had used the wrong word — they needed “training help” not “consulting help.” Within months, the high cost of their workers compensation program went down to almost zero. Problem solved.

Several things employers can do, but usually don’t, are:

1. Contact employees within a week or two after the injury to do a survey of their medical and claims adjuster experience. Speak to them via phone, just as you would ask a good customer about her experience. Jennifer Christian, chief medical officer at Webility, contacts employees to find out if each injured worker felt that care was poor, fair, good or excellent. Often, poor treatment by medical providers and callous indifference by adjusters causes employees to become angry, seek counsel or even delay recovery because of lack of expertise during the initial treatment experience.

2. Have claims reviewed periodically by an independent auditor with a medical provider on the team. Only an MD is qualified to read the medical reports to determine whether treatment was appropriate and sufficient, whether alternate causation has been considered and whether aggressive and excellent (yes, perhaps more expensive) treatment has been provided. Make sure adjusters are not using utilization review (UR) to deny care. Audit, audit, audit. Care, care, care.

Do weekly roundtables with your third-party administrator (TPA) — for instance, every Friday discuss 10 claims, etc. Don’t wait until claims reach $25,000. Discuss them when they are small, BEFORE they get astronomical.

3. Retain an MD to be part of your claims team. This can be an on-site MD part-time or full-time who also speaks with treating physicians and injured employees. Adjusters and nurses do not know “medicalese.” Applause to those insurers who have MDs on staff BUT employers still need to have their own medical advisers on the team. Employers often forget we are talking about medical injuries, not simply “claims.”

4. Assess the key cost drivers of your workers’ compensation costs. Nine out of 10 times, employers misdiagnose the cause of their high workers’ compensation costs. In one case, the employer was ready to fire the insurance company because “they thought” there was too much nurse case management. Upon more detailed analysis, including an independent review by claims experts and an MD, we found the claims were handled well 98% of the time. The cause of the problem was misidentified.

The REAL problem was a lack of a post-injury response — employees and supervisors did not have steps to follow within the first 24 hours after the injury. We then held 19 training sessions over three weeks to improve best practices related to rapid medical care and RTW/SAW (return to work/stay at work) in this mega-entertainment theme park. The workers’ compensation costs dropped 20% in a year-over-year comparison of total incurred losses with the previous 12-month period.

5. There are no tools to guide employees and supervisors. In the above case, we provided: employee brochure, physician brochure, wallet cards in English/Spanish for supervisors and employees, and other tools.

6. And, most importantly, provide the best quality medical care available. Yes, even if it’s more expensive. Pennywise is pound foolish. Get the best, not the cheapest. Pay the doctor more to spend more time with your injured employees, not less time.

7. Establish bundled pre-approval of care in account instructions so UR is not necessary — e.g., “All PTP (primary treating physician) treatments and as many as five visits to specialists are pre-authorized by insured. All testing requisitioned by PTP and specialists including physical therapy (PT) and MRIs is to be approved; do NOT submit to UR. If you strongly believe treatment or testing is unwarranted, contact the insured’s medical director before denying request.”

If you don’t manage and monitor it, the process (any process, not only workers’ compensation) will not work well.

It’s time for employers to become involved in their own business! The first step is assessing the problem at your company, not the industry in general or another company. Get that mirror out and have a look. You are most likely looking at the problem.

Reducing Claim Costs By Implementing a First Aid Program

The Worker’s Compensation market in California is hardening. Rates have been increasing on an incremental basis and are expected to continue to rise as the cost of medical care increases. Employers can reduce their insurance costs by instituting strong safety measures and preventing losses from occurring. However, in the event of a small claim, employers can minimize their costs by implementing a first aid program and reducing their experience modification factors.

Under the new experience rating formula instituted by the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) as of January 1, 2010, all claims under $7001 now go into the modification on a dollar-for-dollar basis, which means that these claims now impact employers more heavily than they have in the past. Claims under $2001 have always gone into the formula at full value and when we talk about instituting a first aid program, we are focusing on these small claims. The medical costs for any claim that meets the legal criteria for ‘first aid’ can be paid by the employer, rather than by the insurance company. Section 5401 of the California Labor Code defines first aid as:

“any one-time treatment, and any follow up visit for the purpose of observation of minor scratches, cuts, burns and splinters, or other minor industrial injuries, which do not ordinarily require medical care. This one-time treatment, and follow-up for the purpose of observation, is considered first aid even though provided by a physician or registered professional personnel.”

The distinction between first aid and a “medical claim” that MUST be paid by the carrier is based on the type of treatment that an employee receives, not whether or not a physician was seen. It is generally accepted in California that the OSHA guides for recordable injuries can help define what claims can be considered “first aid.” This information can be found on the Cal/OSHA website at: http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/dosh1.html.

If a claim meets the definition of “first aid” and there is no prescription medication and no lost time or work restrictions beyond the date of the injury, the employer may pay the claim costs directly; however, it is still recommended that these claims be reported to the insurance company even if the employer pays the medical costs. When a physician is involved in treatment of a first aid claim, the California Department of Insurance, in conjunction with the Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Workers’ Compensation reminds employers and physicians that they must comply with Labor Code Section 6409(a) which states that a physician who treats a first aid injury must complete and submit a Doctor’s First Report of Injury or Illness (Form 5021) with the insurance carrier within five (5) calendar days. With this requirement a claim will be reported by the physician or the employer via the Doctor’s First Report of Injury or Illness so it is good practice for employers to be proactive in reporting all claims to their carrier, especially since claims can escalate at a later date.

Many employers are concerned about the impact of frequency on their insurance rates if they report all of their claims, even first aid claims, but a good broker will present a strong case to the carrier at renewal that there were no costs to the carrier associated with those claims (because the employer has a good first aid program) and further that the employer is an even better underwriting risk because they report all losses to the carrier so there are no surprises down the road.

Remember that all claims under $2001 are grouped together and submitted to the WCIRB by the carrier at the unit statistical filing date. The claims go into the experience modification calculation on a dollar-for-dollar basis and are factored into the experience modification for the next three years. If there are no costs paid by the insurance company for some or all of these claims, an employer can dramatically reduce the modification points associated with these small losses. As one mod point can equate to one percent of premium, there is a strong incentive for employers to reduce their experience modification by paying first aid claims whenever legally permissible.

In an ideal situation, the carrier will review the claim to ensure that it meets the first aid criteria and can forward any bills to the employer for payment upon request. Unfortunately, many carriers do not have the time and resources to do this on a consistent basis so it becomes incumbent on employers to take a proactive approach to working with their medical clinic and carrier to implement a successful first aid program. Although it takes some time and coordination, the financial reward for implementing a First Aid Program is worth the effort. You can start by discussing the issue with your insurance carrier and your designated medical clinic. Your broker can also be a resource to facilitate communication, provide education and help to ensure the success of your first aid program.