Practical Solutions for a Changing Claims Environment
Many theories are emerging on the future of workers’ compensation in a rapidly changing world, but the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo built our upcoming 2015 session program mostly by focusing on existing solutions for claims payers’ current challenges.
Yet now that building the program for the 24th annual conference scheduled for November 11-13 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is complete, I can also report that the lineup of 32 breakout sessions will include some forward-looking discussions.
Attendees will mostly find practical breakout-session presentations on topics like The Home Depot’s strategy for deploying nurse case managers, Southwest Airlines’ quality-assurance efforts for selecting vendor partners, and how employer Reyes Holdings applied an integrated disability and absence management approach.
Our selection group helped pick speakers often by favoring presentation proposals containing pragmatic solutions to the problems they and their industry colleagues face or see as emerging issues needing greater clarity.
The selection group included Denise Algire, director, managed care & disability corporate risk, Safeway Inc.; Bill Wainscott, manager workers’ compensation & occupational health, International Paper; Dan Reynolds, editor-in-chief, Risk & Insurance; and myself.
Like the rest of society, though, workers’ comp is seeing many technology-driven changes and more lie ahead, of course. That is driving thought-provoking, insurance industry discussions on topics such as how the future face of employment and increased use of robotics will impact underwriters.
Those are important considerations. But there remains a need to help workers’ comp professionals understand current applications for technology the industry is still coming to grips with, like the application of predictive analytics.
That is why the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo will provide sessions like one to be led by ESIS, explaining the industry’s data analytics and predictive modeling capabilities. The presentation will be backed by Georgia Pacific explaining of how it has actually applied the tools to improve claims results.
We did not, however, ignore discussions on emerging changes.
Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc. and Harbor Health Systems, for example, will discuss evolving medical management topics such “accountable care, value-based pricing and patient engagement.” But with an eye to the practical, the session will also include a senior workers’ comp manager from Boeing sharing how the company’s current practices align with the expected shifts in healthcare delivery.
Our breakout sessions also look to enlighten on controversial topics impacting the workers’ comp industry. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear two opposing views on the movement pushing for more states to allow employers to opt out of their traditional workers’ comp systems as is currently allowed in Texas and Oklahoma.
The full conference agenda will be available online June 21.
But here is a sneak peak at what the agenda will include:
- Walmart and PRIUM sharing the retailer’s efforts to manage pharmaceutical misuse
- Pacific Gas and Electric’s adoption of a 24/7 telephonic injury management program
- LifeTEAM Health and a Kaiser Permanente medical director describing the results from helping injured employees overcome psychosocial risks with a biopsychosocial strategy
- A discussion on workplace violence, causation, mental trauma and prevention
- Explanations of strategies and available tools for administering the Americans with Disabilities Act and leave laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act.
- A Hyatt Hotels senior occupational health manager on practices for injury prevention, early intervention, and claim-severity mitigation.
It’s an agenda built with an aim to meet the needs of a cross section of workers comp and disability management professionals, including medical providers, attorneys, claims managers and risk management department leaders.
EEOC Seeks to Clarify Wellness Programs, ADA
Employers seeking guidance on implementing workplace wellness programs without violating the law may get some help. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a proposed rule on how Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to wellness programs that are part of group health plans. The agency is accepting public comments through June 19.
“The EEOC’s proposed rule makes clear that wellness programs are permitted under the ADA, but that they may not be used to discriminate based on disability,” according to a statement on the EEOC’s website. “The rule explains that under the ADA, companies may offer incentives of up to 30 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage in connection with wellness programs. These programs can include medical examinations or questions about employees’ health (such as questions on a health risk assessment).”
The rule says the programs must be voluntary and employers cannot deny health insurance, reduce health benefits, or discipline those who do not participate. Employers cannot interfere with the ADA rights of those who do not participate, and they must provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees that allow them to participate in wellness programs and earn the incentives the employer is offering.
The programs “must have a reasonable chance of improving health or preventing disease in participating employees,” the EEOC said. “A program that collects information on a health risk assessment to provide feedback to employees about their health risks, or that uses aggregate information from health risk assessments to design programs aimed at particular medical conditions is reasonably designed. A program that collects information without providing feedback to employees or without using the information to design specific health programs is not.”
Finally, employers are only entitled to medical information collected for the wellness program in aggregate form. The employee’s identity must be kept confidential.
“I absolutely think this guidance is needed because employers were left in legal limbo with what to do,” said Ilyse Schuman, shareholder with Littler and cochair of the Workplace Policy Institute. “On one hand, the Affordable Care Act provisions are designed to promote [wellness programs]; at the same time, the EEOC had taken some recent enforcement action challenging the use of incentives in connection with wellness under the EEOC and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.”
In one case, the agency said an employer violated federal law by requiring an employee to “submit to medical exams and inquiries that were not job-related and consistent with business necessity as part of a so-called ‘wellness program,’ which was not voluntary, and then by firing the employee when she objected to the program,” according to court documents. It said the company’s wellness program “required medical examinations and made disability-related inquiries.” When an employee declined to participate, the company “shifted responsibility for payment of the entire premium for her employee health benefits” to the worker and shortly thereafter fired her.
In a separate case, the agency said an employer threatened to penalize employees if they or their spouses did not submit to biometric tests. Employees said the testing was an unlawful medical exam and violated the ADA and GINA.
A bill recently introduced in Congress seeks to eliminate confusion for employers who offer rewards for participation in wellness programs.
“This is yet another example of the EEOC being out of step with employers and employees,” said Sen. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections before the proposed rule was issued. “Innovative approaches that empower employees to take more control of their personal health care decisions should be encouraged, not stymied by greater government overreach.”
The proposed rule defines the incentives employers may use to encourage employee participation in wellness programs that include disability-related inquiries or medical exams. It says incentives are allowable as long as other parameters are met.
“As employers have increasingly turned to wellness programs to improve costs and health, they are faced with a quandary as to how to do that without running afoul of the ADA or GINA,” Schuman explained. “The conflicting messages coming from the administration on the one hand with respect to the ACA and its implementations and regulations, and the EEOC on the other, left employers in the crosshairs. I think [the rule] was a welcome development.”
Wellness programs. The EEOC defines wellness programs as those that “may include, for example: nutrition classes, onsite exercise facilities, weight loss and smoking cessation programs, and/or coaching to help employees meet health goals,” the agency said. “Wellness programs also may incorporate health risk assessments and biometric screenings that measure an employee’s health risk factors, such as body weight and cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure levels.”
Incentives offered by employers typically are in the form of either rewards or penalties, such as prizes or cash, a reduction or increase in health care premiums, or cost sharing. Most employers that offer them use incentives totaling less than $500 per year, according to the EEOC.
Remaining questions. The rule is only a proposal, Schuman noted. She is unsure about such things as the allowable incentives.
“There are questions about how that is determined because the proposed regulations refer to 30 percent of employee-only coverage,” she said, “but often times employees sign up for family coverage. So it doesn’t seem to make sense.”
There is also the matter of GINA. “It doesn’t address GINA at all. That’s still out there,” Schuman said. “Employers are still left with the uncertainty with respect to how wellness programs offering incentives for a spouse to complete a health risk assessment are treated under GINA. This is not the end of the story for direction from the EEOC.”
RIMS Recap: Tech Trends that Could Change Everything
Last month, Gordon Clemons, CEO and Chairman of CorVel Corporation, presented at the RIMS Conference in New Orleans, La. about emerging technology and how it is impacting risk management and workers’ compensation. The discussion served as a springboard for new insights on how technology will change the industry, and reaffirmed the need for integrated systems and human interaction for the best results.
The presentation noted the future is here – and technology is constantly evolving in hopes of outpacing tomorrow’s needs. As these technology platforms become more inherent in daily life, the gap in translating their utilization to workers’ compensation will begin to close.
Technology in Healthcare
While many consumer-based technology advancements exist in other industries, perhaps most notably in the retail space helping vendors to reduce various delays in the sales experience, people may forget that healthcare, too, is a consumer industry. And as such, healthcare also experiences workflow lags, which can be collapsed.
While patients and claims may not lend themselves as freely to mobile applications and technology that subscribes to the “Internet of Things” philosophy, the rapid rate of development foretells the not-too-far-off arrival of the “a-ha,” “wow factor”-type application that consumers are seeking in the healthcare industry.
Once we get there, we can only expect that the Pangea of resources will yield better outcomes. The potential impact to medical management includes more affordable/accessible healthcare, patient convenience, personal assistance, automatic inputs to claims systems and less administration from both patients and injured workers.
“Healthcare is stubborn about change. There are more data points in healthcare and there is a greater need for high quality and accuracy,” Clemons said.
Tech Trends for the Next Digital Decade
As an industry advocate in all things innovation, CorVel has been keeping tabs on emerging tech trends. As they begin to influence in other industries, it sparks the question – will they eventually change workers’ compensation?
Here are some of the trends on CorVel’s radar:
Smart phones and tablets were the first mobile devices to really start to gain traction across people’s personal lives. Since then, wearables (like Fitbits and smart watches) have been part of the next digital generation to be taken up by consumers.
As these personal devices quickly advance, wearables could offer payors and employers added insight into the wellness of claimants through the extent of their retrievable data.
Beacons are devices that use low-energy Bluetooth connections to communicate messages or triggers directly to a smart device (such as a phone or tablet). Retailers have started using this technology, sending offers to near-by consumers’ phones. Now the concepts of smart mirrors and smart walls offer a one-stop-shop with recommendations related to the preferences of the shopper – making a hyper-efficient business model. It is possible that we could see these devices adapted to being a catalyst for healthcare’s business model by reducing the delays of administrative work.
Formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), drones can be remote-controlled or flown autonomously through pre-defined flight plans within their internal systems. Some carriers are testing the use of drones to potentially be used to evaluate property damage and responding to natural disasters.
As most injuries reported in workers’ compensation are musculoskeletal injuries, the industry lends itself well to the benefits of telecommunications and telemedicine. With the rise of electronic capabilities, telemedicine becomes another option to help guide an injured worker through their entire episode of care, reducing time delays.
In order to get to that point in time, implementing these trends (and those that are yet to be launched) will only be as successful as the population willing to accept them. Buy-in will require a commitment to the long-standing pillars of the industry. According to Clemons, “While technology can truly move the needle in workers’ compensation, it will take more than bells and whistles to maximize its impact.”
“People’s feelings are valid. The skepticism surrounding new technology is not misplaced, but neither is the enthusiasm,” Clemons said.
New Trends, Same Priorities
Beyond the buzzwords and hype surrounding the latest apps and devices, for new technology to succeed within the workers’ compensation realm, it boils down to the two primary concepts that drive the industry to begin with – effective infrastructure and a people-first philosophy.
The power of applicable resources and the actionable data that results from them is in the foundation of the systems themselves; that primarily being through the influence of integration. It is not a new concept; however, as technology advances and the reach of analytic capabilities broadens, it is important to find a provider that can harness this data and channel it into effective workflows to increase efficiencies and promote better outcomes.
CorVel’s proprietary claims management system has been developed and supported by an in-house, full-time information systems division to be intuitive and user-friendly. Complex, proprietary algorithms link codified data across the system, facilitating collaboration between services, workflows, customers, and technology and eliminating the risk that a crucial piece of information will be missed. The result is an active “ecosystem” providing customers with actionable data to provide the most accurate, comprehensive picture at any time, while also collapsing inherent delays.
For the injured worker, the critical human touch connection in the workers’ compensation process can never be minimized. By cutting lag time throughout the various inefficiencies underlying the industry’s workflows, CorVel can connect injured workers with quality care sooner. As systems advance, claims and managed care associates do not have to spend as much time on administrative work and will instead be able to devote more time to the injured workers, reviving the human touch aspect that is just as impactful within the industry.
Regardless of the technology that lies ahead, CorVel looks to the future with investments in innovation, while not losing sight of their role and responsibility to clients and patients. Dedicated to constant improvement for the services they provide injured workers and industry payors, CorVel is committed to improving industry services one app, click, drone (or whatever is yet to come) at a time – perhaps something to discuss in San Diego at next year’s RIMS conference.
For more information, visit corvel.com.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with CorVel Corporation. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.