Tag Archives: montana

Marijuana and Workers’ Comp

I read an interesting story recently on the front page of Yahoo.com titled “ESPN’s NFL player poll about marijuana had some surprising results.” I then read the source article on ESPN.com, “Survey: Two-thirds of NFL players say legal pot equals fewer painkillers.” The title is fairly self-explanatory.

First, just to ensure we’re on the same page: This is a workers’ compensation issue. The NFL is an employer. The players are employees. The gridiron is a workplace. Pain and injury are realities for the vast majority if not all players/employees at some point in their careers.

See also: 4 Goals for the NFL’s Medical Officer  

The survey was of 226 players, 11% of the total number of players on active rosters and practice squads. So I would consider it a statistically significant sample, and, depending on how the 226 were selected, likely reflective of the full population.

Following are the highlights as tweeted out by @ESPNNFL:

  • Nearly three-quarters of NFL players surveyed (71%) say marijuana should be legal in all states.
  • About one-in-five (22%) say they’ve known a teammate to use marijuana before a game.
  • Two-thirds (67%) say the NFL’s testing system for recreational drugs is not hard to beat.
  • When asked which was better for recovery and pain control — marijuana or painkillers — 41% say marijuana, compared with 32% for painkillers.
  • More than half (61%) say that, if marijuana were an allowed substance, fewer players would take painkillers.

Do these results scare you? Probably depends on the personal opinion you held before you read them. Do these results surprise you? They shouldn’t. According to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of 1,042 adults in February 2016:

  • 61% said marijuana should be legal, and of those …
  • 33% with no restrictions
  • 43% with restrictions on purchase amounts
  • 24% only with medical prescription

Add to those figures the five states (Arizona’s Proposition 205, California’s Proposition 64, Maine’s Question 1, Massachusetts’ Question 4, Nevada’s Question 2) that voted last Tuesday whether to legalize recreational marijuana. (Legalization was approved in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine — though by such a close vote in Maine that a recount is being requested. The pro-legalization side appears to have lost in Arizona, but the vote is still being counted.) Add to that four other states (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota) that will vote on medical marijuana legalization. (Legalization was approved in all four states.) All of that means the landscape looks very different than it did a week ago.

So if you are a private or public employer, an insurance company, a work comp stakeholder, a clinician, a politician or state regulator … How different do you think your specific constituency is from the numbers listed above? My educated guess is that both surveys are fairly representative of the U.S. (the only other country that I’ve been following is Canada, which appears to be along the same trajectory in public opinion). Which means the numbers above are likely to guide coming public policy.

See also: How Literature and the NFL Shed Light on Innovation

So what does this all mean for the workplace? Of paramount importance is to have a jurisdiction-specific (because all states are different) drug policy (pre-employment, post-accident, return-to-work) that explicitly addresses marijuana (because presence does note equal impairment, a characteristic unique to marijuana among intoxicants).

And … keep your seatbelts handy.

‘Montana Model’ for Workers’ Comp Fees

Policymakers in many states increasingly enact medical fee schedules in the quest to limit the growth of hospital costs. They often seek a reference point or benchmark to which they can tie reimbursement rates. Usually, that benchmark is either Medicare rates in the state or some measure of historic charges by the hospitals. Medicare rates are usually seen by healthcare providers as unreasonably low; charge-based fee schedules are often seen by payers as unnecessarily high.

This study examines an alternative benchmark for workers’ compensation fee schedules—prices paid by group health insurers. In concept, this benchmark has certain advantages. Unlike Medicare, the group health rates are not the result of political decisions driven by the exigencies of the federal budget. Rather, these rates are the result of negotiations between the payers and the providers. Unlike a charge-based benchmark, group health rates are what is actually paid to providers. This is important given the growing public attention to the arbitrariness of many hospital charges.

The major limitation of using group health prices paid as a benchmark for workers’ compensation fee schedules is that these prices are seen by group health insurers as proprietary. However, one state, Montana, has adopted a fee schedule based on group health prices paid and implemented relatively straightforward processes to balance the need for a fee schedule and the need to protect the proprietary information of the group health insurers.

This article does the following: (1) describes the major findings of the study, (2) suggests a framework for thinking about whether prices paid by workers’ compensation payers are too high or too low, and (3) discusses the Montana approach.

Major Findings

What do we find when we compare the prices paid to hospital outpatient departments by group health and workers’ compensation payers? Among the major findings of this study are:

  • In many study states, workers’ compensation hospital outpatient payments for common surgical episodes were higher, and often much higher, than those paid by group health. For example, in half of the study states, workers’ compensation paid at least $2,000 (43%) more for a common shoulder surgery (see Figures 1a and 1b).
  • The amount by which workers’ compensation payments exceeded group health payments (“the workers’ compensation premium”) was highest in the study states with either no fee schedule or a charge-based fee schedule (Tables 1a and 1b).

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Are Prices Paid By Workers’ Compensation Payers Too Low or Too High?

The comparison of workers’ compensation and group health hospital outpatient payments raises the question in many states as to whether workers’ compensation hospital outpatient rates are higher than necessary to ensure injured workers access to good quality care. For example, in Indiana, hospital outpatient services associated with shoulder surgery were, on average, reimbursed $9,183 by workers’ compensation as compared with $7,302 by group health. Is this differential of $1,881 necessary to induce hospital outpatient departments to provide facilities, supplies and staff to treat injured workers in an appropriate and timely manner?

Consider the following framework for analyzing the question. If hospital outpatient departments were willing to provide timely and good-quality care to group health patients at the prices paid by group health insurers, then two questions should be answered by policymakers:

  • What is the rationale for requiring workers’ compensation payers to pay more to hospital outpatient departments than group health insurers pay for the same treatments?
  • If there is such rationale for higher payment, is a large price differential necessary to get hospital outpatient departments to treat injured workers?

In addressing the first question, let’s say that the hospital outpatient department provided identical treatment for a group health patient and a workers’ compensation patient. If the care was identical—same facilities, supplies and staff—and workers’ compensation imposed no unique added costs on the hospital outpatient department, then there is little rationale for workers’ compensation payers to pay more than the group health payers.

Healthcare providers often cite a special “hassle factor” in workers’ compensation that does not exist in treating or billing for the group health patient. Common examples of the alleged hassle factor include longer payment delays, higher nonpayment rates (where the compensability was contested or where care given was not deemed appropriate), more paperwork, more missed appointments, lower patient compliance with provider instructions and so on. If these hassles are unique to workers’ compensation patients, then this forms a potential rationale for workers’ compensation paying higher prices than group health, for the same care. Let’s assume that this accurately describes the real world.

Then the question becomes: Are the unique costs imposed on hospital outpatient departments large enough to justify workers’ compensation payers having to pay $2,000-$4,000 more per surgical episode than group health payers pay for the same care? If the costs of these hassles total less than, say, $2,000, then workers’ compensation fee schedules could be lowered without adverse effects on access to care for injured workers. In other words, the large price differentials observed in this study can only be justified by the large costs of these hassles that are unique to workers’ compensation.

In applying this framework to different types of providers, where these hassles exist, some types will be larger for some kinds of providers than for others. For example, the first doctor who treats may be more exposed to nonpayment risk than other providers who treat later in the claim; or the hospital outpatient departments’ use of the operating and recovery rooms would be less affected by paperwork but exposed to payment delays. Because the majority of payments to hospital outpatient departments are for physical facilities (e.g., recovery room), equipment (e.g., the MRI machine but not the radiologists’ professional services) and supplies (e.g., crutches), it is more likely that hospital outpatient departments are more exposed to billing delays, nonpayment risk (at emergency rooms for initial care) or canceled appointments and less exposed to time-consuming paperwork hassles or patient compliance issues.

Moreover, if the additional burden that the workers’ compensation system places on hospital providers (e.g., additional paperwork, delays and uncertainty in reimbursements, formal adjudication and special focus on timely return to work) is sizable, policymakers have two choices. The first is to adopt a higher-than-typical fee schedule that embraces large costs for the hassle factor. The alternative is to identify and remediate the causes of the larger-than-typical hassles — especially where these are rooted in statutory or regulatory requirements.

The Montana Approach

The major limitation of group health as a benchmark for workers’ compensation is that the group health rates are the proprietary competitive information of commercial insurers. The Montana legislature found a way to use group health prices as a benchmark for its workers’ compensation fee schedule while respecting the confidentiality of the commercial insurers’ price information. The approach used is to obtain the price information (conversion factor) from each of the five largest commercial insurers and group health third-party administrators (TPAs) in the state and compute an average. The average masks the prices paid by any individual commercial insurer or TPA. In addition, the statute guarantees the confidentiality of the individual insurers’ information.

Conclusion

This study raises a number of concerns about whether fee schedules are too high or too low. There are two key pieces of information needed to address this — (1) how much other payers in the state are paying, and (2) whether there is a unique workers’ compensation hassle factor.

This study addresses the first question for common surgeries done at hospital outpatient departments. A related WCRI study does the same for professional fees paid to surgeons and primary-care physicians.

Quantifying the presence and magnitude of any unique workers’ compensation hassle factor remains to be done. However, in some states, these studies show that workers’ compensation prices were below those paid by group health. For those states, policymakers may want to inquire about access-to-care concerns, especially for primary care. For other states, the workers’ compensation prices paid were so much higher than prices paid by group health insurers that policymakers should ask if the large differences are really necessary to ensure quality care to injured workers.

One way of framing that question using the results of the WCRI studies is as follows: “Workers’ compensation pays $10,000 to hospital outpatient departments for a shoulder surgery on an injured worker, and group health pays $6,000 for the same services. Does it make sense that if workers’ compensation paid $9,000 that hospital outpatient departments would no longer treat injured workers—preferring to treat group health patients at $6,000, or Medicare patients at a fraction of the group health price, or Medicaid patients at prices lower than Medicare?”

Ms. Tanabe is sharing this article on behalf of its authors, Richard Victor and Olesya Fomenko.

States of Confusion: Workers Comp Extraterritorial Issues

As states passed workers compensation laws, each state established its own system. This resulted in a mishmash of laws, benefits, compensability and eligibility from state to state. Courts have ruled that a state has the right to apply its own workers compensation rules and standards to each case. Hence, most states simply don’t care what other states allow, only what is required under their workers compensation laws. There is little meaningful cooperation or coordination among states. Challenges for agents, employers, insurance companies and adjusters include understanding:

  • When coverage is required in jurisdictions where the employer has operations or employees working, living or traveling in or through.
  • How coverage is provided for various jurisdictions.
  • What jurisdictional benefits an employee can collect.

The policy

The two items that reference what states are insured under a workers compensation policy are 3.A. and 3.C. on the information page. (Federal coverage can only be added by endorsement.) 3.A. is fairly simple. The insurance agent for the employer instructs the insurance carrier to list the states where the employer operates when the policy goes into effect or is renewed. 3.C. is a safety net – at least most of the time. That item lists states where an employer expects it may have employees traveling to or through or working in. If an employer begins work in any state listed in 3.C. after the effective date of the policy, all provisions of the policy apply as though the state were listed in 3.A. Notice must be given “at once” if work begins in any state listed in 3.C., although “at once” is not defined in the policy. If the employer has work in any state listed in 3.C. on the effective date of the policy, coverage will not be afforded for that state unless the carrier is notified within 30 days.

It should be noted the insurance policy does not determine what law applies at the time of injury. The law determines what is payable. In addition, note that the workers compensation policy does not apply to Ohio, North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming, “monopolistic” states where coverage may only be purchased from the state. Although larger employers may self-insure in Ohio and Washington (but not North Dakota or Wyoming), no private insurance carrier can write workers compensation coverage for an employer.

It would seem the safe bet is to add all states except monopolistic states to 3.A. However, most underwriters are unwilling to do this or even add the ideal wording for 3.C.: “All states, U.S. territories and possessions except Washington, Wyoming, North Dakota, Ohio, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and states designated in Item 3.A. of this Information Page.” The reason for the underwriters’ unwillingness varies. Common reasons underwriters provide include:

Licensing issue

The insurer is not licensed in all states. Many regional insurers are only licensed in a handful of states while other carriers may only be licensed in one state…often for strategic reasons. Carriers frequently assert it is impossible — and possibly illegal — to list a state they are not licensed in (even though policies contain wording whose clear intent is to allow carriers to pay benefits in states where they are not licensed).

Underwriting considerations

The insurance carrier may not want to provide insurance in certain states it considers more challenging from a workers compensation standpoint or because carriers do not want to write in states where they have little or no claims adjusting experience, established provider networks and knowledge of the nuances of the law.

Underwriters’ lack of awareness or knowledge

Underwriters are not claims adjusters and do not always have a full understanding  of workers compensation’s jurisdictional complexity and the employer’s risk (no coverage) and agents’ risk (errors and omission claims) for not securing coverage for all states with potential exposure. Agents are often told the employer does not need coverage in the state in which the agent is requesting coverage — which the home or primary state benefits will pay. However, the chance that an employee will be successful in securing another state’s benefits — even if the employee is only there temporarily — is just too much of a risk.

Physical location

Carrier underwriters frequently cite the “physical location” — actually needing an address — as a roadblock to adding a state to 3.A. The National Council for Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has rules on this issue. Most states that follow NCCI rules allow entry of “no business location” — but not all.  States that follow NCCI rules (including the independent bureaus like Texas) will often modify some rules. Arizona, Kentucky, Montana and Texas do not allow “no business location.” It is a regulatory reporting issue. Possible solutions to secure 3.A. coverage include:

  • Providing an entry of “Any Street, Any Town” or “No Specific Location, Any City” for the state. Many carriers will use this.
  • Using an employee’s home address in the state if there is an employee working from home there.
  • Using the agent/brokers address if they have an office there.

Compliance

Only Texas and New Jersey have workers compensation laws that are elective. New Jersey employers still, in effect, cannot go without workers compensation insurance. In Texas, any employer can “unsubscribe” to the workers compensation system and “go bare” and be subject to the tort system. All other states require employers to purchase workers compensation insurance for their employees or qualify for self-insurance.

Which benefits apply? 

If an employer has employees traveling on a limited basis from their home states, the headquarters state may have established a time limit on coverage for out-of-state injuries. The most common limit is six months. This may be written into the statute or may be silent, but over time case law has made determinations. In other words, if an employee usually worked in Michigan but spent three months working on assignment in Kentucky and was injured in Kentucky, the employee would most likely still be eligible for Michigan benefits. In states with a timeline, an employee working in another state for more than the designated duration is no longer entitled to benefits in the home state, but the employee is probably entitled to the compensation in the state in which he or she is currently working.

One of the most important factors is that an employee injured outside of his state of residence may have selection of remedies (benefits) if he lives in one state and works in another. The Michigan employee injured in Kentucky may want Kentucky benefits because Kentucky has lifetime medical and Michigan does not. Or, an employee may have been injured on the way to work, and the state where she was injured does not allow for workers compensation in this circumstance even though this would be a compensable injury in the employee’s headquarters state. Perhaps there is a disqualification in one state because of, for example, an employee’s intoxication that would not be a disqualifier in another state. In addition, the maximum amount of income benefits available to employees varies considerably from state to state.

Piggybacking benefits

Piggybacking occurs when an employee files in one state and then in another state where he qualifies for additional benefits. What is allowed in additional payments will depend on the circumstances of the claim and the states involved. This issue has become particularly dangerous for employers that have not arranged coverage in other states because they are unaware there is an exposure there. The employer then becomes liable for the benefits due in the uninsured state, including all costs to adjust and defend the claim if litigated.

Typically, if an employee collects benefits in one state and is successful in perfecting a claim in another state with higher benefits, the benefits collected in the first state are offset from the second state’s benefits payment. For example, assume an employee collects $10,000 from Indiana then files in Illinois, which grants $18,000. Only the difference between $18,000 and $10,000, or an additional $8,000, would be paid. Employers with employees in both “wage-loss” and “impairment” states face an additional challenge: Employees could qualify for both states’ benefits with no offsets.

Most states don’t care what other states have allowed, only what is required under their laws. If the employee collected under another state’s law but qualifies in our state for additional benefits, well, so be it. If an employee has traveled to, through or lived or worked in another state to create a “substantial” relationship with the state, there is a very good chance he or she will be granted workers compensation benefits in that state.

State statutes, case law, common law and tests

State statutes, case law or the common law in a jurisdiction may influence what benefits an employee may collect. Various criteria that may apply include:

  • State of hire
  • State of residence
  • State of primary employment
  • State of pay
  • State of injury
  • State in agreement between employer and employee (unique to Ohio, and only Ohio and Indiana recognize the agreement)

The “WALSH” test is a good guide to questions to ask, in order of importance:

W   Worked – Where did the employee work most of the time?

A    Accident – Where did the accident occur?

L    Lived – Where is the employee’s home?

S    Salaried – Where is the employee getting paid from?

H    Hired – Where was the contract of hire initiated?

Just about all jurisdictions indicate an employee is entitled to the benefits of their state if the employee was working principally localized in the state, was working under a contract of hire made in the state or was domiciled in the state at the time of the accident. This is why “worked” and “accident” are given the most weight.

Reciprocity

Several states will reciprocate another state’s extraterritorial provisions. Each state has its own reciprocal agreements, with as few as a half-dozen states or as many as 30. For as many states that cooperate with reciprocity, just as many states will not.

In addition, not all reciprocity agreements address the “claims” aspect of compliance. In other words, the reciprocity means the employer does not have to secure “coverage” for an employee temporarily in another state; however, it does not mean that the employee could not pursue a claim in that state. If the employer was relying on the reciprocity provisions of the state law and did not secure coverage in that other state, the employer may be without coverage for that state and may also become “non-compliant” with the state and be subject to fines. The employer (or its agent) has decided to rely on the employee accepting his home state benefits. If the injured employee goes back to her home state for benefits, no harm, no foul.  However, if the employee perfects a claim in another state or in some instances simply chooses to file a claim in that state, then the employer would be considered a non-complying employer and could be subject to penalties.

Washington does not reciprocate in construction employment unless there is an agreement in place. Washington has these agreements with Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada.

Some specifics

Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire New Mexico, New York, Montana, and Wisconsin require coverage in 3.A.

Kentucky allows no exceptions for family members, temporary, part time or out-of-state employers performing any work in the state of Kentucky. Kentucky does not accept the Ohio C110 form.

New York made a significant change in its workers compensation law [Section 6 of the 2007 Reform Act (A.6163/S.3322)] that affected employers if they conducted any work in New York or employed any person whose duties involve activities that took place in New York. Effective Feb. 1, 2011, the New York board clarified coverage requirements. Detailed information can be found on the New York Workers Compensation Board’s website: http://www.wcb.ny.gov/content/main/onthejob/CoverageSituations/outOfStateEmployers.jsp

Florida, Nevada and Montana require all employers working in the construction industry to have specific coverage for their state in 3.A. Ohio and Washington require that employers purchase coverage from the state for all employers working in the construction industry. Otherwise, Florida, Nevada, Montana, Ohio and Washington will honor coverage for temporary work from other jurisdictions. Florida also requires the coverage be written with a licensed Florida carrier. 3.A. coverage status is required for any employer having three or more employees in New Mexico and Wisconsin even on a temporary basis.

The standard workers compensation policy exclusion for bodily injury occurring outside the U.S., its territories or possessions and Canada does not apply to bodily injury to a citizen or resident of the U.S. or Canada who is temporarily outside these countries. State workers compensation will apply, however, for those employers that have employees regularly traveling out of the country; the Foreign Workers Compensation and Employers Liability endorsement should be added to their workers compensation policy. This endorsement is used for U.S.-hired employees who are traveling or residing temporarily outside the U.S. The coverage is limited to 90 days. For employees out of the country for long periods or permanently, coverage needs to be arranged under an international policy.

The extraterritorial issues arise because many states — Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin — permit concurrent jurisdiction between State and Longshore coverage. Some states — notably Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia and Washington —  do not permit this concurrent jurisdiction, and Longshore becomes the sole remedy. In concurrent jurisdictions, the employee can file in both state and federal court, and the employer must defend both.

Summary

  • Recognize that having employees who work, live or are temporarily traveling to or through other states creates premium and coverage challenges for employers and agents.
  • Take time to understand the rules of the state where there is potential exposure.
  • States requiring coverage in 3.A. for some or all situations tend to be strict and impose severe penalties for non-compliance. Many carriers are often aware of the challenges these states present and will work with the agent/employer and add on an “if any” exposure basis.
  • Always attempt to secure the broadest coverage possible under the workers compensation policy, adding to 3.A. as many states with even minimal exposure. As a fallback, get the state in 3.C.
  • Obtain coverage for operations in monopolistic states separately.
  • Address out-of-state exposures when insured by a state-specific state fund or regional carrier that only writes in one or a few states. Remember, the 3.C. wording is designed to pay benefits — by reimbursing the employer — if the carrier cannot pay directly to the employee.
  • Check for employees traveling out of the country and arrange to expand coverage with the foreign endorsement or through an international policy.
  • Check with a marine expert to assess the exposure to the Longshore Act and whether coverage is required.  Longshore is very employee-friendly.

The white paper on which this article was based can be found here.