An improving job market brings opportunities for employees in the workers’ compensation industry along with challenges for their employers and their employers’ customers. One large third-party administrator is experiencing an “uptick” in employee turnover as the economy gradually improves, the organization’s leader recently discussed at a conference. Other TPA executives tell me their employee retention levels remain flat, but one can reasonably foresee a repeat of the first TPA’s experience as more job opportunities arise.
An improving economy is good for everyone and a worker’s ability to advance into a better job is a positive sign that the economy is functioning as it should, by efficiently allocating resources.
When the economy tanked, for example, a risk manager I have known for years reluctantly returned to a TPA adjuster job following a layoff. Her skills were under-utilized and she wasn’t happy about returning to a role she had held before advancing in her career.
As the economy improved, she landed a risk management position where she is now happier, fully applying her broader knowledge. Her new employer also benefits from her skill set that was under-utilized during the recession.
The catch is that even moderate employee turnover among TPAs is difficult for customers, industry leaders tell me, presenting challenges for customer service continuity.
Clients suffer when a new adjuster assumes a file they are unfamiliar with. Customers like the service consistency delivered by adjusters and other TPA employees familiar with their business practices and claims handling preferences. They want to keep adjusters they have developed solid working relations with.
Losing employees also concerns TPAs because they can see their recruiting and training investments walk out the door.
Consequently, TPA executives are talking more about improving career advancement opportunities for their workers and how they might reshape careers in their industry so they can retain employees. That’s going to mean getting inside people’s heads and understanding their motivations.
There are many reasons people switch jobs, including commute times, salary increases, workplace personnel issues and career advancement.
A founding member of the Disability Management Employer Coalition recently suggested I write a story about the job churn he now sees among the disability insurers, consultants, and employers he has known for years. He thinks the movement is caused by the corporate demands that emerged during the recession, as companies moved to do more with less.
He thinks workers are moving in hopes of a lighter workload. I can’t verify whether his theory about the cause of job changes is correct.
But given his position in the disability management community, I suspect his observation that more professionals are moving on as the business outlook improves is on target.
The labor market has not fully recovered from the Great Recession’s impact. But industry leaders would be wise to look ahead and rethink employee retention strategies.
This is a cyclical challenge TPAs have faced before. Pre-recession, when the economy was booming, employee churn was significant, I’m told. But TPAs won’t be the only ones wrestling with these issues as the economy continues improving.
Whether unbundling workers’ compensation managed care services from third-party administration contracts really benefits employers continues to stir debate among the strategy’s advocates and detractors. I suspect that whether an employer that unbundles sees improved claims outcomes and cost savings, or better service depends on their resources and commitment to managing multiple vendors.
However, fewer risk managers and workers’ compensation managers may be considering unbundling today, compared to a few years ago, said Charles F. Martin, managing director, casualty operations consulting leader at Marsh USA Inc.
“My sense is that there is definitely less of an inclination to unbundle,” Martin said, noting that he has clients that unbundle and he believes some companies benefit from doing so.
But proponents haven’t established that unbundling guarantees better claims outcomes, Martin said. Meanwhile, TPAs and insurers improved their delivery of managed care offerings, helping to sway employer decision-making.
Some employers using an unbundled approach for years are being nudged back to bundling, thanks to consolidation among managed care service providers. I can’t say, however, whether there’s a trend there.
One workers’ comp manager I spoke with reaffirmed her commitment to keep unbundling case management, utilization review, and bill review from her TPA services. She said doing so allows customization of those products to fit her needs and affords greater quality control.
Unbundling remains an important option for employers with the sophistication to manage it. Recently, though, Srivatsan Sridharan and Niel Simon at Gallagher Bassett Services Inc. sought me out to pose counter arguments to unbundling.
Risk managers with shrinking internal staff support will be challenged to oversee multiple service providers and replicate the level of quality control that a TPA team can provide, they said.
“There are too many moving parts and making sure that quality and outcomes are not compromised in any of these parts requires significant investment in time, people and resources,” Sridharan said.
Employers can make mistakes when there is a limited amount of claims data to analyze before deciding which service providers to contract with, they said. In contrast, GB makes decisions based on its analysis of $4 billion in claims data.
Sridharan and Simon also posed other arguments. But several speakers in a recent Risk & Insurance® webinar titled “Succeeding with an Unbundled Claims Management Approach” made strong arguments for their opposing view as well.
For example, Frank Lott, corporate claims director for FirstGroup America, said he unbundles bill review, pharmacy benefit management, field nurse case management, and physical therapy.
Doing so for 2.5 years has led to greater transparency in bill review fees, he said. Before he couldn’t understand what he was billed for. He has also experienced reduced costs, improved program control for greater loss cost reductions, and a higher level of service provider expertise.
The debate over bundling versus unbundling doesn’t matter much to some insurers because they don’t allow their customers to unbundle.
But the option should remain available for employers and the debate should continue so they can weigh critical insights on which options may serve them best.
Six Best Practices For Effective WC Management
It’s no secret that the professionals responsible for managing workers compensation programs need to be constantly vigilant.
Rising health care costs, complex state regulation, opioid-based prescription drug use and other scary trends tend to keep workers comp managers awake at night.
“Risk managers can never be comfortable because it’s the nature of the beast,” said Debbie Michel, president of Helmsman Management Services LLC, a third-party claims administrator (and a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Insurance). “To manage comp requires a laser-like, constant focus on following best practices across the continuum.”
Michel pointed to two notable industry trends — rises in loss severity and overall medical spending — that will combine to drive comp costs higher. For example, loss severity is predicted to increase in 2014-2015, mainly due to those rising medical costs.
Debbie discusses the top workers’ comp challenge facing buyers and brokers.
The nation’s annual medical spending, for its part, is expected to grow 6.1 percent in 2014 and 6.2 percent on average from 2015 through 2022, according to the Federal Government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This increase is expected to be driven partially by increased medical services demand among the nation’s aging population – many of whom are baby boomers who have remained in the workplace longer.
Other emerging trends also can have a potential negative impact on comp costs. For example, the recent classification of obesity as a disease (and the corresponding rise of obesity in the U.S.) may increase both workers comp claim frequency and severity.
“The true goal here is to think about injured employees. Everyone needs to focus on helping them get well, back to work and functioning at their best. At the same time, following a best practices approach can reduce overall comp costs, and help risk managers get a much better night’s sleep.”
– Debbie Michel, President, Helmsman Management Services LLC (a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual)
“These are just some factors affecting the workers compensation loss dollar,” she added. “Risk managers, working with their TPAs and carriers, must focus on constant improvement. The good news is there are proven best practices to make it happen.”
Michel outlined some of those best practices risk managers can take to ensure they get the most value from their workers comp spending and help their employees receive the best possible medical outcomes:
1. Workplace Partnering
Risk managers should look to partner with workplace wellness/health programs. While typically managed by different departments, there is an obvious need for risk management and health and wellness programs to be aligned in understanding workforce demographics, health patterns and other claim red flags. These are the factors that often drive claims or impede recovery.
“A workforce might have a higher percentage of smokers or diabetics than the norm, something you can learn from health and wellness programs. Comp managers can collaborate with health and wellness programs to help mitigate the potential impact,” Michel said, adding that there needs to be a direct line between the workers compensation goals and overall employee health and wellness goals.
Debbie discusses the second biggest challenge facing buyers and brokers.
2. Financing Alternatives
Risk managers must constantly re-evaluate how they finance workers compensation insurance programs. For example, there could be an opportunity to reduce costs by moving to higher retention or deductible levels, or creating a captive. Taking on a larger financial, more direct stake in a workers comp program can drive positive changes in safety and related areas.
“We saw this trend grow in 2012-2013 during comp rate increases,” Michel said. “When you have something to lose, you naturally are more focused on safety and other pre-loss issues.”
3. TPA Training, Tenure and Resources
Businesses need to look for a tailored relationship with their TPA or carrier, where they work together to identify and build positive, strategic workers compensation programs. Also, they must exercise due diligence when choosing a TPA by taking a hard look at its training, experience and tools, which ultimately drive program performance.
For instance, Michel said, does the TPA hold regular monthly or quarterly meetings with clients and brokers to gauge progress or address issues? Or, does the TPA help create specific initiatives in a quest to take the workers compensation program to a higher level?
4. Analytics to Drive Positive Outcomes, Lower Loss Costs
Michel explained that best practices for an effective comp claims management process involve taking advantage of today’s powerful analytics tools, especially sophisticated predictive modeling. When woven into an overall claims management strategy, analytics can pinpoint where to focus resources on a high-cost claim, or they can capture the best data to be used for future safety and accident prevention efforts.
“Big data and advanced analytics drive a better understanding of the claims process to bring down the total cost of risk,” Michel added.
5. Provider Network Reach, Collaboration
Risk managers must pay close attention to provider networks and specifically work with outcome-based networks – in those states that allow employers to direct the care of injured workers. Such providers understand workers compensation and how to achieve optimal outcomes.
Risk managers should also understand if and how the TPA interacts with treating physicians. For example, Helmsman offers a peer-to-peer process with its 10 regional medical directors (one in each claims office). While the medical directors work closely with claims case professionals, they also interact directly, “peer-to-peer,” with treatment providers to create effective care paths or considerations.
“We have seen a lot of value here for our clients,” Michel said. “It’s a true differentiator.”
6. Strategic Outlook
Most of all, Michel said, it’s important for risk managers, brokers and TPAs to think strategically – from pre-loss and prevention to a claims process that delivers the best possible outcome for injured workers.
Debbie explains the value of working with Helmsman Management Services.
Helmsman, which provides claims management, managed care and risk control solutions for businesses with 50 employees or more, offers clients what it calls the Account Management Stewardship Program. The program coordinates the “right” resources within an organization and brings together all critical players – risk manager, safety and claims professionals, broker, account manager, etc. The program also frequently utilizes subject matter experts (pharma, networks, nurses, etc.) to help increase knowledge levels for risk and safety managers.
“The true goal here is to think about injured employees,” Michel said. “Everyone needs to focus on helping them get well, back to work and functioning at their best.
“At the same time, following a best practices approach can reduce overall comp costs, and help risk managers get a much better night’s sleep,” she said.
To learn more about how a third-party administrator like Helmsman Management Services LLC (a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual) can help manage your workers compensation costs, contact your broker.
Debbie discusses how Helmsman drives outcomes for risk managers.
Debbie explains how to manage medical outcomes.
Debbie discusses considerations when selecting a TPA.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Helmsman Management Services. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.