Risks of Hearing Loss Remain Flat, With Exceptions
The prevalence of hearing loss among U.S. workers has remained at 20 percent for the last 30 years. Researchers say there have been improvements in most areas, but certain sectors continue to put workers at risk.
Occupational hearing loss is permanent and potentially debilitating but preventable, according to government experts. They looked at audiograms for 1.8 million workers between 1981 and 2010 to estimate hearing loss trends in various industries.
“The adjusted risk for incident hearing loss decreased over time when all industry sectors were combined,” according to their report, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. “However, the risk remained high for workers in healthcare and social assistance, and the prevalence was consistently high for mining and construction workers.”
Some 22 million workers are exposed to noise hazards at work. Hazardous noise, a single instantaneous high noise exposure, or exposure to chemicals that damage hearing can result in occupational hearing loss. The study from researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is said to be the first to offer a broad look at hearing loss risks to workers over a 30-year period.
The construction industry had the highest number of new hearing loss cases during the study period, possibly due to less stringent hearing conservation requirements compared with other industries. Also, the seasonal nature of work involving independent contractors makes it difficult to implement preventive measures.
Mining has the highest percentage of noise exposed workers than any other industry, the report said. A small fraction of workers in the health care and social assistance sector are exposed to hearing risks. However, the vast majority report not wearing protection.
“There is no industry where workers can be considered ‘safe’ from hearing loss.”
The Uncertainty of Certificates
Brokers and agents are often asked by their clients seeking to win bids for business to certify coverages that aren’t in their policies, strike language in the standard certificate form to comply with contractual requirements or issue certificates that include additional insureds that are not named on their policies.
As these issues continue to simmer in the marketplace, a majority of states have enacted laws and regulations to limit problems arising from excessive demands, and making it illegal for agents and brokers to list verbiage on certificates of insurance that does not accurately represent what the policy covers.
Certificates of insurance are merely “snapshots” of policies, and should never be relied upon in the same manner as the actual policy.
The new state requirements are due in large part to extensive lobbying efforts by groups like the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America Inc. in Alexandria, Va., said Bill Wilson, the group’s associate vice president of education and research.
“We didn’t do it to be punitive to agents, but rather to give them a reason why they can’t put certain wording on a COI if it misrepresents the policy terms,” Wilson said.
“It’s illegal for them to do so, and that’s why they have to refuse,” he said.
Problems often arise when “savvy” landlords, lenders, contractors and rental companies dictate specific insurance requirements that some agents and brokers “are just not familiar with, or are paying much attention to,” said Susan McCaffrey, area vice president, senior client service manager at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Kansas City, Mo.
She said she has encountered such problems when taking over accounts from other brokerage firms.
For example, a property owner might require a client to provide a workers’ compensation alternate employer endorsement to protect the owner if one of the client’s employees is injured on their property, McCaffrey said.
Most national carriers are willing to provide the required forms, but smaller or regional insurance companies are not as willing to provide the required forms or will charge a premium.
Barb Wurst, a client executive in the Minneapolis office of the Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, said her team sometimes encounters outdated wording or erroneous requirements that need to be clarified.
“Reviewing contracts and the certificate of insurance requirements before the contracts are signed is critical to being able to negotiate with carriers,” Wurst said.
“If we can review them before our clients sign the contract, it makes everything down the road go smoother.”
Certificates of insurance are merely “snapshots” of policies, and should never be relied upon in the same manner as the actual policy, said Bryson Popham, managing partner in the Annapolis, Md., law firm of Popham & Andryszak.
Moreover, certificates can be rendered obsolete immediately following issuance, because the policies they describe can be cancelled the next day.
Healthcare: The Hardest Job in Risk Management
Radically changing cost and reimbursement models.
Rapidly evolving service delivery approaches.
It is difficult to imagine an industry more complex and uncertain than healthcare. Providers are being forced to lower costs and improve efficiencies on a scale that is almost beyond imagination. At the same time, quality of care must remain high.
After all, this is more than just a business.
The pressure on risk managers, brokers and CFOs is intense. If navigating these challenges wasn’t stress inducing enough, these professionals also need to ensure continued profitability.
“Healthcare companies don’t hide the fact that they’re looking to reduce costs and improve efficiencies in practically every facet of their business. Insurance purchasing and financing are high on that list,” said Leo Carroll, who heads the healthcare professional liability underwriting unit for Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.
But it’s about a lot more than just price. The complexity of the healthcare system and unique footprint of each provider requires customized solutions that can reduce risk, minimize losses and improve efficiencies.
“Each provider is faced with a different set of challenges. Therefore, our approach is to carefully listen to the needs of each client and respond with a creative proposal that often requires great flexibility on the part of our team,” explained Carroll.
Creativity? Flexibility? Those are not terms often used to describe an insurance carrier. But BHSI Healthcare is a new type of insurer.
The Foundation: Financial Strength
Berkshire Hathaway is synonymous with financial strength. Leveraging the company’s well-capitalized balance sheet provides BHSI with unmatched capabilities to take on substantial risks in a sustainable way.
For one, BHSI is the highest rated paper available to healthcare providers. Given the severity of risks faced by the industry, this is a very important attribute.
But BHSI operationalizes its balance sheet in many ways beyond just strong financial ratings.
For example, BHSI has never relied on reinsurance. Without the need to manage those relationships, BHSI is able to eliminate a significant amount of overhead. The result is an industry leading expense ratio and the ability to pass on savings to clients.
“The impact of operationalizing our balance sheet is remarkable. We don’t impose our business needs on our clients. Our financial strength provides us the freedom to genuinely listen to our clients and propose unique, creative solutions,” Carroll said.
Keeping Things Simple
Healthcare professional liability policy language is often bloated and difficult to decipher. Insurers are attempting to tackle complex, evolving issues and account for a broad range of scenarios and contingencies. The result often confuses and contradicts.
Carroll said BHSI strives to be as simple and straightforward as possible with policy language across all lines of business. It comes down to making it easy and transparent to do business with BHSI.
“Our goal is to be as straightforward as we can and at the same time provide coverage that’s meaningful and addresses the exposures our customers need addressed,” Carroll said.
Claims: More Than an After Thought
Complex litigation is an unfortunate fact of life for large healthcare customers. Carroll, who began his insurance career in medical claims management, understands how important complex claims management is to the BHSI value proposition.
In fact, “claims management is so critical to customers, that BHSI Claims contributes to all aspects of its operations – from product development through risk analysis, servicing and claims resolution,” said Robert Romeo, head of Healthcare and Casualty Claims.
And as part of the focus on building long-term relationships, BHSI has made it a priority to introduce customers to the claims team as early as possible and before a claim is made on a policy.
“Being so closely aligned automatically delivers efficiency and simplicity in the way we work,” explained Carroll. “We have a common understanding of our forms, endorsements and coverage, so there is less opportunity for disagreement or misunderstanding between what our underwriters wrote and how our claims professionals interpret it.”
Responding To Ebola: Creativity + Flexibility
The recent Ebola outbreak provided a prime example of BHSI Healthcare’s customer-centric approach in action.
Almost immediately, many healthcare systems recognized the need to improve their infectious disease management protocols. The urgency intensified after several nurses who treated Ebola patients were themselves infected.
BHSI Healthcare was uniquely positioned to rapidly respond. Carroll and his team approached several of their clients who were widely recognized as the leading infectious disease management institutions. With the help of these institutions, BHSI was able to compile tools, checklists, libraries and other materials.
These best practices were immediately made available to all BHSI Healthcare clients who leveraged the information to improve their operations.
At the same time, healthcare providers were at risk of multiple exposures associated with the evolving Ebola situation. Carroll and his Healthcare team worked with clients from a professional liability and general liability perspective. Concurrently, other BHSI groups worked with the same clients on offerings for business interruption, disinfection and cleaning costs.
Ever vigilant, the BHSI chief underwriting officer, David Fields, created a point of central command to monitor the situation, field client requests and execute the company’s response. The results were highly customized packages designed specifically for several clients. On some programs, net limits exceeded $100 million and covered many exposures underwritten by multiple BHSI groups.
“At the height of the outbreak, there was a lot of fear and panic in the healthcare industry. Our team responded not by pulling back but by leaning in. We demonstrated that we are risk seekers and as an organization we can deploy our substantial resources in times of crisis. The results were creative solutions and very substantial coverage options for our clients,” said Carroll.
It turns out that creativity and flexibly requires both significant financial resources and passionate professionals. That is why no other insurer can match Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.
To learn more about BHSI Healthcare, please visit www.bhspecialty.com.
Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance (www.bhspecialty.com) provides commercial property, casualty, healthcare professional liability, executive and professional lines, surety, travel, programs, and homeowners insurance. It underwrites on the paper of Berkshire Hathaway’s National Indemnity group of insurance companies, which hold financial strength ratings of A++ from AM Best and AA+ from Standard & Poor’s. Based in Boston, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance has regional underwriting offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand. For more information, contact email@example.com.
The information contained herein is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any product or service. Any description set forth herein does not include all policy terms, conditions and exclusions. Please refer to the actual policy for complete details of coverage and exclusions.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.