Compassion in the Age of Uncertainty
It is the political season, so we hear many different plans for fixing the economy, creating jobs and other aspirations.
Here is one we can’t forget about.
While we host some of the leading health research and medical facilities in the world, the decline of our population’s health is one of our most pressing issues.
Recently, we were saddened to learn of research by Drs. Meara and Case, reported in the New York Times, demonstrating an increase in mortality among middle-aged (45-54) white Americans. The trend was most severe among those with just a high school education.
Economic uncertainty is strongly correlated to the increase in mortality rates.
This is a reversal of decades of improvement in American mortality rates. Thankfully, that improvement continues for all other population groups and ages.
Workers in this age group, at the height of their careers, could be considered the backbone of our American economy.
As employers and experts in risk and health, we’ve learned about co-morbidities such as diabetes and heart disease and how they dramatically add complexity, length of treatment, and cost to worker injuries.
Yet, the cause of the increased mortality in this group, according to the research, is a dramatic increase in substance abuse, including prescription drugs and heroin, in addition to alcoholic liver disease and suicides.
The linkage between prescription drug dependence and workers’ compensation injuries and treatment is well known, but what about those other causes?
In this segment of 45-54 year old whites with no more than a high school education, significantly more pain was reported than in the past. Fully a third of this group reported chronic joint pain over the 3 year period, and those with the least education reported the most pain and the worst health generally.
Other research has demonstrated that the US has fallen behind other wealthy nations in life expectancy, which brings us back to the economy.
Economic uncertainty is strongly correlated to the increase in mortality rates. In fact, those individuals with the least education who reported the most pain and worst health also reported the greatest financial distress.
During this period of 2011 to 2013, household income for households headed by a high school graduate fell by 22 percent, when adjusted for inflation. The explanation for the increase in mortality attributable to suicide and substance abuse is a combination of pain with mental distress!
What can we take from this to help us be more compassionate employers? The most influence organizations can have on employee well being is through the work culture and environment.
Well being and engagement drive business results. Wellness is a combination of physical and emotional health, financial well being, and positive social connection.
Where once wellness initiatives were limited to the corporate offices, we’ve found that employers have expanded initiatives throughout their operations. All around us, wellness programs and opportunities are being expanded to financial well being and employers have long encouraged positive social interactions at work.
Wellness is a critical and urgent imperative for our times, improving health while saving employers on costly worker injuries and health care and improving productivity and results. This will go a long way toward making the overall economy healthier.
Technology’s Role in Managing Employee Absences
The 24th annual National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® and Expo takes place Nov. 11-13 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The conference is produced by LRP Publications, which publishes Risk & Insurance®. For more information, visit www.wcconference.com.
You might not think that an employee’s absence for just a few days could raise concern for an employer. But all absences are not created equally.
There is workers’ comp, short- and long-term disability, Family and Medical Leave Act, and other types of absences. Some are planned, others are not. Some are paid, some unpaid. Some are associated with job protection benefits, others are not. There are state and federal regulations that may apply.
Employers need to understand when each should be employed and make sure they have fair and consistent practices in administering their leave programs.
“There is a misconception that absence management is easy. It is not,” said Keith Nelson, vice president and head of group insurance program delivery for Aetna Life Insurance Co. “Absence management is very complex.”
As Nelson explains, even a single day of absence may involve multiple types of leave and can impact different components of an organization in many different ways.
“We’ve got state mandated leaves such as those under workers’ comp, and state family and medical leave laws, that run concurrently with FMLA leaves,” he says. “There are now even a growing number of municipal leaves being added into the equation for employers to administer.”
His session, Technology Tools for Managing Disabilities and Absences, takes place Thursday, Nov. 12 from 10:45 a.m. to noon.
Effects on Personnel
“An employee might be out for one day, but that day of absence could apply to 15 or 16 different benefits,” Nelson said.
“Some have different start dates or end dates. The employee may have been approved for one benefit but denied for another on the same day. In my experience, many key stakeholders don’t fully understand those nuisances. There’s a concurrency component of absence management.”
An employee’s absence may affect people within an organization differently, depending on the role of the person. Each may have a different awareness of which type of leave benefit applies to the employee’s absence request.
“An employee might be out for one day, but that day of absence could apply to 15 or 16 different benefits.” — Keith Nelson, vice president and head of group insurance program delivery, Aetna Life Insurance Co.
“From the employee’s perspective, they don’t know all the benefits available to them or the differences,” Nelson said. “The only thing some of them can say is ‘I’m injured or ill,’ whether it happened at work or not, and ‘I need to be off of work.’”
Absence, he explains, is very personal to each individual. The concerns change from one person to another throughout the company.
“As you go up the organization, the interests are very different,” he said. “For the supervisor, it is ‘do I have a full staff at work?’”
Plant managers, human resources personnel, and the company’s CEO all have other concerns about an employee’s absence. Where one department is concerned about the effects on productivity, another may be more interested in finding out how and why the injury/illness occurred.
“Employers want to protect their employees from injuries or safety incidents. They are really all about mitigating safety risks and putting prevention in place,” Nelson said. “From the economic side of a workers’ comp accident, not only is the employer funding the lost wages for an employee who is away from work, but also likely funding the legal expenses, the medical expenses, and all kinds of claim-related expenses such as temporary labor expenses.”
“Different rules of compensability apply in different states. Moreover, employers may offer different types of disability plans for different groups of employees,” Nelson said. “The same can be said for leave of absence policies that are offered to different groups of employees. The overarching impact is the same: ‘Do I have a full workforce or not?’”
The one common link among each department is the need for information about the absence.
With technology, each department within an organization has access to information about an employee’s leave in the form best applicable to the needs. Personnel can better understand the overall picture of absences with a good technology platform.
“It enables effective information exchange,” Nelson said. “There is a whole new level of sophistication in the workforce, and employers/providers have a new appetite for information. That’s the big picture of what the session is all about — learning how technology can assist employers to administer effective absence management programs.”
Employers are required to use fair and consistent practices when applying the various types of leaves. Through technology, various facets within an organization can have a clear understanding of the rules and regulations.
“The industry is changing,” Nelson said. “There are new regulations all the time, new types of benefits, emerging paid sick and paid family leave. From a workers’ comp perspective, there is medical only and true lost time claims, but it’s still the same individual. How does it work? How do all constituents stay informed?”
The privacy aspect of an employee’s absence is another concern that can be addressed through technology. For example, workers’ comp has different protocols for sharing claim information than is routinely used for disability and state or federal leaves. The circumstances dictate what can be shared with an employer.
Failing to ensure fair and consistent practices can lead to regulatory scrutiny, legal action, and other financial liability. Technology can help reduce the complexities of absence management, minimize inconsistencies, and ultimately, mitigate risks.
When the Going Gets Rough, the Smart Come to Aspen Insurance
Sometimes, renewals don’t go as expected.
Perhaps your company experienced a particularly costly claim last year. Or maybe it was just one too many smaller incidents that added to a long claims history.
No matter the cause, few words are scarier to hear this time of year than, “Renewal denied.”
But new options are now emerging for companies that are willing to tackle their product liability challenges head-on.
Aspen Insurance’s products liability team – underwriters, loss control engineers and claims professionals – welcome clients who have been denied coverage from other, more traditional carriers.
“For our team, we view our best opportunities to be with clients who have specific problems to solve. In these cases, we leverage our deep expertise and integrated team approach to help the client identify root causes and fix issues,” said Roxanne Mitchell, Aspen U.S. Insurance’s executive vice president and chief casualty officer.
“The result is a much improved product or manufacturing process and the start of a new business relationship that we can grow for many years to come.”
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved. We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it.”
— Roxanne Mitchell, Executive Vice President, Chief Casualty Officer, Aspen Insurance
Of course, this specialized approach is not applicable to all situations and clients. Aspen Insurance only offers coverage if the team is confident the problems can be solved and that the client genuinely wants to engage in improving their business and moving forward.
“Our robust and detailed problem-solving approach quickly identifies pressing issues. Once we know what it will take to rectify the problem, it’s up to the client to make the investments and take the necessary actions,” added Mitchell. “As a specialty carrier operating within the E&S market, we have the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to unique and complex problems.”
For clients who are eager to learn from managing through a unique, pressing issue, and apply the consequential lessons to improve, Aspen Insurance can be their best, and sometimes only, insurance friend.
The Strategy: Collaboration from Underwriting, Claims and Loss Control
Aspen offers a proven combination of experienced underwriting professionals collaborating with the company’s outstanding loss control/risk engineering and seasoned claims experts.
“We deliver experts who understand the industries in which they work, which is another critical differentiator for us,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell described the Aspen underwriting process as a team approach. In diagnosing the causes of a specific problem, the Aspen team thoroughly vets the client’s claims history, talks to the broker about the exposures and circumstances, peruses user manuals and manufacturing processes, evaluates the supply chain structure – whatever needs to be done to get to the root of a problem.
“Aspen pulls from every resource we have in our arsenal,” she said.
After the Aspen team explores the underlying reason(s) and root cause(s) producing the client’s problem in the first place, it will offer a solution along with corresponding price and coverage specifics.
“We have a very specific business appetite and approach,” Mitchell said. “We don’t treat products liability as a commodity.”
As noted, a major component of Aspen’s approach is that they seek to work with clients who are equally interested in solving their problems and put in the work required to reach that end.
Mitchell cited two recent client examples of manufacturers of expensive products that could endure large claim losses but had some serious problems that needed to be solved.
A conveyor systems manufacturer had a few unexpected large claims and lost its coverage in the traditional insurance market. The manufacturer never managed a product recall in the past, and Aspen’s loss control engineers dug into why several systems failed. Aspen also helped the company alert customers about the impending repairs.
Another company that manufactured firetrucks had three or four large losses, when telescoping ladders collapsed, resulting in serious injuries. The company’s claim history was clean until this particular product defect. When Aspen researched the issue, it found that the specific metal and welding used to make the telescoping ladders didn’t have the required torque to keep the ladders from collapsing.
Both companies worked with Aspen to correct the issues. Problem solved.
“It is so important that our clients are willing to actively engage in finding out what is causing their losses so they can learn from the experience,” Mitchell said.
Apart from the company’s problem-solving philosophy, Mitchell said, the willingness to allow qualified clients to manage their own claims is the second biggest reason companies come to Aspen.
“We are willing to work with clients who have demonstrated the expertise to handle their own claims — with our monitoring — rather than hiring a TPA,” she said. “It is a useful option that can save them money.”
Mitchell explained that customers who stay with Aspen for the long-term can be confident that Aspen will help them – whatever the challenge. For instance, if they need a coverage modification for a new product that they bring to market, Aspen can help make it happen. Mitchell noted, “We pride ourselves on the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to address the complex and challenging risks that our clients face.”
Aspen’s desire to help solve difficult client problems comes with a caveat, but one that benefits both Aspen and the insured: It wants to move forward as a true partner – one with clear long-term relationship potential.
In a nutshell, Aspen’s products liability worldview is to partner with a manufacturer who is facing a difficult situation with claims or coverage, help them solve that problem, and then, engage in a long-term, committed relationship with the client.
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved,” she said. “We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it. This partnership approach can be a clear win-win.”
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.