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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Commercial Auto Warning: Emerging Frequency and Severity Trends Threaten Policyholders
The slow but steady climb out of the Great Recession means businesses can finally transition out of survival mode and set their sights on growth and expansion.
The construction, retail and energy sectors in particular are enjoying an influx of business — but getting back on their feet doesn’t come free of challenges.
Increasingly, expensive commercial auto losses hamper the upward trend. From 2012 to 2015, auto loss costs increased a cumulative 20 percent, according to the Insurance Services Office.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow,” said David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
For companies with transportation exposure, costly auto losses can hinder continued growth. Buyers who partner closely with their insurance brokers and carriers to understand these risks – and the consultative support and tools available to manage them – are better positioned to protect their employees, fleets, and businesses.
Liberty Mutual’s David Blessing discusses key challenges in the commercial auto market.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow. As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
–David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
More Accidents, More Dollars
Rising claims costs typically stem from either increased frequency or severity — but in the case of commercial auto, it’s both. This presents risk managers with the unique challenge of blunting a double-edged sword.
Cumulative miles driven in February, 2016, were up 5.6 percent compared to February, 2015, Blessing said. Unfortunately, inexperienced drivers are at the helm for a good portion of those miles.
A severe shortage of experienced commercial drivers — nearing 50,000 by the end of 2015, according to the American Trucking Association — means a limited pool to choose from. Drivers completing unfamiliar routes or lacking practice behind the wheel translate into more accidents, but companies facing intense competition for experienced drivers with good driving records may be tempted to let risk management best practices slip, like proper driver screening and training.
Distracted driving, whether it’s as a result of using a phone, eating, or reading directions, is another factor contributing to the number of accidents on the road. Recent findings from the National Safety Council indicate that as much as 27% of crashes involved drivers talking or texting on cell phones.
The factors driving increased frequency in the commercial auto market.
In addition to increased frequency, a variety of other factors are driving up claim severity, resulting in higher payments for both bodily injury and property damage.
Treating those injured in a commercial auto accident is more expensive than ever as medical costs rise at a faster rate than the overall Consumer Price Index.
“Medical inflation continues to go up by about three percent, whereas the core CPI is closer to two percent,” Blessing said.
Changing physical medicine fee schedules in some states also drive up commercial auto claim costs. California, for example, increased the cost of physical medicine by 38 percent over the past two years and will increase it by a total of 64 percent by the end of 2017.
And then there is the cost of repairing and replacing damaged vehicles.
“There are a lot of new vehicles on the road, and those cost more to repair and replace,” Blessing said. “In the last few years, heavy truck sales have increased at double digit rates — 15 percent in 2014, followed by an additional 11 percent in 2015.”
The impact is seen in the industry-wide combined ratio for commercial auto coverage, which per Conning, increased from 103 in 2014 to 105 for 2015, and is forecast to grow to nearly 110 by 2018.
None of these trends show signs of slowing or reversing, especially as the advent of driverless technology introduces its own risks and makes new vehicles all the more valuable. Now is the time to reign in auto exposure, before the cost of claims balloons even further.
The factors driving up commercial auto claims severity.
Data Opens Window to Driver Behavior
To better manage the total cost of commercial auto insurance, Blessing believes risk management should focus on the driver, not just the vehicle. In this journey, fleet telematics data plays a key role, unlocking insight on the driver behavior that contributes to accidents.
“Roughly half of large fleets have telematics built into their trucks,” Blessing said. “Traditionally, they are used to improve business performance by managing maintenance and routing to better control fuel costs. But we see opportunity there to improve driver performance, and so do risk managers.”
Liberty Mutual’s Managing Vital Driver Performance tool helps clients parse through data provided by telematics vendors and apply it toward cultivating safer driving habits.
“Risk managers can get overwhelmed with all of the data coming out of telematics. They may not know how to set the right parameters, or they get too many alerts from the provider,” Blessing said.
“We can help take that data and turn it into a concrete plan of action the customer can use to build a better risk management program by monitoring driver behavior, identifying the root causes of poor driving performance and developing training and other approaches to improve performance.”
Actions risk managers can take to better manage commercial auto frequency and severity trends.
Rather than focusing on the vehicle, the Managing Vital Driver Performance tool focuses on the driver, looking for indicators of aggressive driving that may lead to accidents, such as speeding, sharp turns and hard or sudden braking.
The tool helps a risk manager see if drivers consistently exhibit any of these behaviors, and take actions to improve driving performance before an accident happens. Liberty’s risk control consultants can also interview drivers to drill deeper into the data and find out what causes those behaviors in the first place.
Sometimes patterns of unsafe driving reveal issues at the management level.
“Our behavior-based program is also for supervisors and managers, not just drivers,” Blessing said. “This is where we help them set the tone and expectations with their drivers.”
For example, if data analysis and interviews reveal that fatigue factors into poor driving performance, management can identify ways to address that fatigue, including changing assigned work levels and requirements. Are drivers expected to make too many deliveries in a single shift, or are they required to interact with dispatch while driving?
“Management support of safety is so important, and work levels and expectations should be realistic,” Blessing said.
A Consultative Approach
In addition to its Managing Vital Driver Performance tool, Liberty’s team of risk control consultants helps commercial auto policyholders establish screening criteria for new drivers, creating a “driver scorecard” to reflect a potential new hire’s driving record, any Motor Vehicle Reports, years of experience, and familiarity with the type of vehicle that a company uses.
“Our whole approach is consultative,” Blessing said. “We probe and listen and try to understand a client’s strengths and challenges, and then make recommendations to help them establish the best practices they need.”
“With our approach and tools, we do something no one else in the industry does, which is perform the root cause analysis to help prevent accidents, better protecting a commercial auto policyholder’s employees and bottom line.”
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.