Managing Service Providers
Uncovering inconsistencies in an insurer’s or third party administrator’s service performance can ultimately strengthen an employer’s partnerships with the organizations managing injured-worker claims.
Advocates of independent reviews maintain that vendor management quality assurance audits conducted by independent reviewers can reveal weaknesses that impact an employer’s workers’ compensation program.
Yet other observers argue that independent quality assurance audits are becoming a thing of the past and their value diminishing.
Still, about 25 percent of self-insured employers and those with large deductibles seek the audits, said Dan Marshall, chief claims officer U.S. at Aon.
“It is only the most sophisticated buyers that want to look under the hood, so to speak, and get a gauge of the performance of claims service providers,” he said.
Insurers and third party administrators, meanwhile, employ their own teams to conduct highly structured quality assurance, or QA, reviews of their internal claims operations.
They test whether their employees adhere to internally mandated standards and whether their claims managers comply with negotiated service levels. They also evaluate the performance of external claims service providers.
“TPAs [and insurers] do a significant amount of internal quality assurance before a work product goes out,” said Jenny Killgore, VP of insurance services at Athenium Inc., which provides insurers with quality assurance systems for evaluating claims, underwriting processes and vendor-management practices.
Whether insurers and TPAs use internal resources or contract with outside companies for nurse case management, legal defense, MSA compliance, surveillance and other claims management services, QA reviews can reveal whether services are optimally deployed.
Reviews conducted by a TPA’s or insurer’s internal QA team also help those organizations strengthen their employee training programs and learn whether service inconsistencies exist among widely dispersed regional offices.
They also help retain customers as competitive market pressures and QA practices have pushed insurers and TPAs to improve their services over the years, several experts agreed.
But an independent review can help reveal whether employers are indeed well served by the internal QA processes of the claims management organizations they contract with, said Jim Kremer, senior manager, insurance and actuarial advisory services at Ernst & Young LLP.
Independent reviews can help confirm that an employer’s claims-management instructions and service agreements are consistently met and whether the company’s dollars are wisely spent.
“Leading practice would be a focus on claims management quality overall, especially outcomes.” — Jim Kremer, senior manager, insurance and actuarial advisory services, Ernst & Young LLP
“You have standards that are in place at every carrier and third party administrator,” Kremer said. But, he asked, “Are those front-line adjusters, and frankly their supervisors, adhering to those standards?”
QA reviews can assess timely claim intervention, reserving, pharmacy management and medical data management, among others. Audits should evaluate adherence to leading claims-management practices and impact on claims outcomes, Kremer said.
“Large employers have performance guarantees in place, hence requiring audits,” Kremer said. “Leading practice would be a focus on claims management quality overall, especially outcomes.”
An independent review might find, for example, that workloads unintentionally encourage a TPA’s adjusters to relinquish control of claim files to specialists more often than optimal. That can cause employers to pay for nurses or attorneys to complete tasks adjusters are capable of handling.
“There is a cost to that and you certainly don’t want to assign routine tasks that an adjuster should be doing to a nurse case manager or to an attorney,” Kremer said. “That is very expensive and produces what we call ‘expense leakage.’ We see it quite often when we are out auditing in the marketplace.”
Other common findings include inadequate supervision of adjusters and failures to optimally reserve for specific claims, brokers said.
One opportunity for improvement commonly found during Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.’s internal audits involves the inability of adjusters to connect with injured employees during attempted follow-up telephone calls, said Darrell Brown, Sedgwick’s chief claims officer.
Observers say that has become an industry-wide problem, especially with the increased use of cell phones.
That inability to connect slows claim management decisions and can result in the increased use of investigations when adjusters don’t receive responses to their queries or when claimants believe they are not being properly cared for, Brown said.
“You can’t have a good outcome if the injured employee is having a bad experience,” Brown said.
During the request for proposal process, when employers shop for new TPA partners, it’s common to ask to see results of the TPAs’ internal QA reviews, said Thomas Ryan, research leader for Marsh’s workers’ compensation center of excellence.
“Sometimes they will sanitize the results [of internal QA audits] and share those with us,” Ryan said. “Others are a little reluctant to do so. But they will at least give us some high-level findings.”
Once a TPA is selected, contract language provides employers with the ability to conduct audits.
Thing of the Past?
Not everyone agrees, however, on the value of QA audits.
Automated claims-handling systems with embedded quality assurance components make independent reviews less necessary today, said Jerry Poole, president and CEO of Acrometis, which provides automated adjuster desktops.
“The quality assurance audit will be a thing of the past,” Poole said.
He said that when making claims decisions, Acrometis’ adjuster systems conduct QA in real time, while audits provide a retrospective review.
Real-time QA provides beneficial data about certain adjuster tasks, such as whether specific claims actions are completed within certain timeframes, Kremer said.
But the systems still cannot sufficiently evaluate certain factors, like the intensity of a claim investigation, he said.
Internal risk management staff at Albertsons Safeway constantly monitor the performance of the TPAs servicing the grocery chain’s workers’ comp claims, and medical outcomes are continually measured, said Bill Zachry, group VP of risk management.
Yet Albertsons Safeway also obtains an independent audit every four or five years, Zachry added.
The Hartford, meanwhile, relies on an internal team, comprised mostly of nurses, to conduct evaluations of the business partners that provide workers’ comp services.
Those services include utilization review, field nurse case management, vocational rehab, pharmacy benefit management, transportation, interpretation, physical therapy and medical provider networks.
QA evaluations are conducted before contracting with such partners, said Dr. Marcos Iglesias, VP and medical director for the insurer. Then each is trained on The Hartford’s QA expectations with follow-up audits. &
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Buyers Beware: General Liability Outlook May be Shifting
The soothing drumbeat of “excess capital” and “soft market” to describe the general liability (GL) market is a familiar sound for brokers and buyers. Emerging GL trends, however, suggest the calm may not last.
Increasing severity of GL claims may hit some sectors like a light rain at first, if they have not already, but they could quickly feel like a pelting thunderstorm in others. A number of factors could contribute to the potential jump in GL prices for certain industry segments or exposures, possibly creating “micro” or niche hard markets in the short-term, and maybe even turning the broader market over the longer-term.
“There are trends we’re seeing that will play out slowly. Industries that carry more general liability exposure will and have been hit first and hardest, but it won’t apply across the board initially,” said David Perez, Senior Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer, for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s National Insurance Specialty operation. “There is ample capital in the market today, which allows a poor performing account to move its policy frequently from carrier to carrier. Poorer performing classes, however, will likely face increased pricing for GL policies and a reduction in capacity.”
The good news for buyers is that they can take action today to lessen the impact these trends and the evolving market may have on their GL programs.
David Perez on the state of the GL market.
Medical and Litigation Trends Drive Severity
One factor increasing claim severity is the rising cost of health care, driven both by greater demand and by medical inflation that is growing faster than the Consumer Price index.
The impact of rising medical costs on commercial auto is well-known. Businesses with heavy transportation exposures are finding it more difficult to obtain coverage, or are paying more for it.
That same trend will impact general liability, just on a slower and more fragmented basis.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk.”
— David Perez, Senior Vice President & Chief Underwriting Officer, National Insurance Specialty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
“It takes longer for medical inflation to register through the tort system in general liability than it does in auto liability (AL) because auto claims are generally resolved more quickly,” Perez said. “But the same factors affecting severity in AL also exist in GL and as a result, it’s foreseeable that we will not only see similar severity trends in GL, but they may in fact be worse than we’ve seen in commercial auto.”
Industries with greater exposure to severity in general liability claims should be the first wave of companies to notice the impact of medical inflation.
“Medical inflation will drive up costs across the board, but sectors like construction and product manufacturing have a higher relative exposure for personal injury lawsuits.”
The impact of medical inflation on the GL market.
Beyond medical inflation, two litigation trends are increasing GL damages. First, plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to migrate the use of life care plans—traditionally employed only for truly catastrophic injuries—to more routine claims. Perez recalled one claimant with a broken thumb and torn ligaments who sought as much as $1 million in care for the injury for the rest of his life.
Second, the number of allegations of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in GL claims is growing. It can be difficult to predict TBI outcomes initially and poor outcomes can be expensive and long tailed.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk,” notes Perez.
Changing Legal Landscape
Medical inflation and litigation trends are not the only issues impacting general liability.
Unanticipated changes in court interpretations of policy language can throw unexpected pressure on GL pricing and capacity.
Courts sometimes issue rulings interpreting policy language in a manner that expands coverage well beyond the underwriter’s original intent. Such opinions may sometimes have a retroactive effect, resulting in an immediate impact on not only open, but also closed cases in some circumstances.
Shifts in the Marketplace
In addition to facing price increases, GL brokers and buyers will be challenged by slightly shrinking capacity due to consolidation and repositioning among carriers in the marketplace. “Some major carriers have scaled back their GL writing, resulting in a migration of experienced senior management. As these executives leave, they take their GL expertise and relationships with them, resulting in fewer market leaders and less innovation,” Perez said.
“Additionally, there are new carriers coming into the business that may not have the historical GL loss data to proactively identify trends or the financial strength and experience to effectively service their GL customers and brokers. Both trends make it important for brokers and buyers to work with an insurer that is committed to the GL market and has the understanding and resources to help better manage risks impacting customers.”
Last year saw a high level of mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry. Buyers should take advantage of that disruption to re-evaluate their needs and whether their insurers are meeting them. Or better yet, anticipating them.
What’s a Buyer to Do?
Buyers—and their brokers— should look to partner with insurers that can spot emerging trends and offer creative solutions to address them proactively.
What should buyers and brokers do, given the trends facing the GL market?
“Brokers and buyers should value insurers that have not only durability and a long history in the general liability business, but also a strong risk management infrastructure,” Perez said. “Your insurer should be able to help you mitigate your specific risks, and complement that with coverage that works for you.”
Beyond robust GL claims and legal management, Liberty Mutual also provides access to one of the insurance industry’s largest risk control departments to help improve safety and mitigate both claim frequency and severity.
In addition, notes Perez, “Even if a company has a less than optimal loss history in general liability, there can be options to provide adequate coverage for that company. The key is to partner with an insurer that has the best-in-class expertise, creativity, and flexibility to make it happen.”
By working closely with their insurers to understand trends and their potential impacts, brokers and buyers can better prepare for the possible GL storm on the horizon.
To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s general liability offering, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/coverages/general-liability-insurance-policy.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.