Workers’ Comp Forecast for 2014
1. Predictive Analytics.
Using predictive analytics effectively is the holy grail for any large company.
If you are a staffing company, oil field service operation, or retailer working on tight margins, getting this right can mean the difference between a profitable year or needing to increase liability accruals to account for ever-increasing long tail development.
There is a need to not only develop models for making predictions but to be able to provide actionable information that can be used to quantify the cost/benefit of taking very specific actions. If this could be accomplished, insurers and large self-insured companies could efficiently allocate resources to the areas likely to provide the most meaningful benefit.
2. TRIA is Non-Renewed.
The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) or Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIPRA) is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31. Even now, as we are without a decision, insurers are being exposed to unlimited terrorism-related workers’ compensation liability (based on an annual policy period).
TRIA has been in place since 2002, when Congress acted to ensure that there was a market-based solution for insurance losses arising out of terrorist acts. It is generally agreed that the sponsors of that Act suggested that it could one day be phased out, and throughout its life, the protection has been diminished. However, what remains are clear limits that comfort investors and others in the financial community.
While the Act remains unrenewed, it is the witching hour for insurers. Consequently, insurers are in the process of preparing their position with respect to the issue.
3. Loss Costs in California Deteriorate.
When California Gov. Edmund “Jerry” Brown signed the workers’ compensation reform legislation into law Sept. 18, he said that it would reverse a four-year trend of rate increases. According to the data made available to us, the insurance market clearly disagrees.
As a matter of fact, California is the state producing the highest rate increases. Possibly, the reform medicine is slow acting and good news for employers in California is on its way.
The problem in California is not a new one. At one point, the state insurance fund was writing more than 50 percent of the workers’ compensation market. That
is the fund that was created to be the market of last resort as it is a government enterprise.
What is clear is it is becoming more common for insurers to place limitations on the amount of California workers’ compensation they will write. The concern is that in the current environment it is simply impossible to be profitable. It is a subtle movement to avoid a head-on clash with regulators.
4. IRS Focuses on Insurers and Captives.
The uniqueness and secret to success for the insurance industry is its favorable tax treatment. Money comes in, expected future losses are deducted and cash is available for investment and growth. The big difference is that expenses do not need to be paid but only accrued to reduce taxable income. That leaves more cash for investment.
There has been discussion about scrutiny of taxation for insurance companies and captives, the alternative risk tool of choice. Captives are on the short list for IRS auditors and if captives are not properly structured, there is more risk that those captives will now be challenged.
5. Trial Attorneys to Target Non-Subscription.
Approximately one-third of the employers in Texas are non-subscribers. Why? Because it makes sense. It saves on frictional costs, quickly provides benefits to employees who are injured and eliminates much of the soft fraud. It has been so successful that Oklahoma enacted its own reform effort, and Tennessee is considering legislative initiatives to enhance opportunities for non-subscription.
Even without a survey, we can safely assume that the majority of plaintiff’s attorneys are not big fans of non-subscription. Benefits for non-subscription are paid out via the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. There is no need for a legal process. There is no waiting period. There are clear definitions that are subject to arbitration.
In contrast, workers’ compensation commonly requires a legal process. Should an attorney become involved in a case where there is an injury within the course of employment, the attorney’s share, although not as large as in a tort case, is for all intents and purposes no-fault. For legal firms, workers’ compensation is high volume, low risk and considerable reward.
Consequently, we would think that should non-subscription become popular in Oklahoma and be signed into law in Tennessee that it may become a target of the bar.
6. Medicare Set Asides Become Increasingly Difficult.
MSAs, as they are called, are a complicated thing. In general, money is set aside to pay benefits for costs that otherwise would be funded by Medicare. It applies only to certain classes of individuals. With an aging workforce, it has become a big and expensive issue for insurance companies.
The problem is that claims can’t be settled quickly and efficiently as government sign-off is required. The impact has been a substantial increase in large claims severity. Further, it has helped to create longer tail development. What this means is that all companies will end up with longer periods of loss development in the form of greater IBNR (Incurred but not reported losses). It translates into more collateral, higher costs and higher liability accruals.
7. Bond Yields Plummet.
Nothing has had a greater impact on the insurance market than the change in bond yields post-2008. It required underwriters to make a profit underwriting. That changed the dynamics of the marketplace and the way the big insurers look at their business.
While it is hard to imagine, it is possible that rates of return on bonds could get much lower. Should there be a European meltdown, recession in Asia or the refusal of China and others to continue to fund our deficits, rates will fall. Should this happen there will be no escaping the need for rate adjustments across all lines of insurance as the dynamics of the current market will be left smoldering once again.
Growing Pains in the Sharing Economy
A recent finding that an Uber driver is an employee rather than an independent contractor has focused attention on the future of the sharing economy.
Whatever that future, observers don’t expect that the sharing economy, with its business models that rely on smartphone apps like Uber’s, will have a significant impact on workers’ compensation insurance.
They are, however, watching to see how state labor commissions, courts and legislatures nationwide will address the employment status of people providing a range of services through technology platforms such as those offered by ride-sharing companies like Uber and its rival Lyft.
“We are very interested,” said Peter Burton, senior division executive for state relations at NCCI Holdings Inc., a workers’ comp ratings and research organization.
“We actively are watching work comp commission decisions as well as legislative decisions.”
But NCCI’s interest in how states will eventually rule on whether workers in the sharing economy will be legally designated as contractors or employees is mostly technical. NCCI wants to stay abreast of matters, for instance, should it need to develop new rates.
So far, there have been few definitive legal determinations on the classification of on-demand workers, and whether app companies linking them to customers must purchase workers’ comp insurance. Consensus may also be elusive.
“It’s going to have to be adjudicated state by state and you are probably going to have all sorts of different opinions,” Burton said.
“Right now it’s still uncharted ground.”
The issue of whether the sharing economy’s on-demand workers should be classified as employees and legally entitled to a range of benefits and expense reimbursements has surfaced before.
“It’s going to have to be adjudicated state by state and you are probably going to have all sorts of different opinions. Right now it’s still uncharted ground.” — Peter Burton, senior division executive for state relations,
NCCI Holdings Inc.
But the topic recently gained increased attention when news stories reported that rapidly-growing Uber — valued at $40 billion — is appealing a California Labor Commission finding that a former chauffeur was an employee rather than an independent contractor as the company classifies its drivers.
The Labor Commission said that Uber could not exist without the work performed by the former driver. It essentially found that Uber exercised enough control over how the driver conducted her work to make her an employee. The ruling requires Uber to reimburse the former driver $4,152 in expenses and interest.
Uber argued that it is merely a technology company that allows drivers and passengers to conduct transportation business. It filed its appeal of the Commission’s ruling to a San Francisco County trial court on June 16.
The California Labor Commission’s decision applies to a single plaintiff. But the case’s eventual outcome, and other ongoing cases including class-action lawsuits with similar allegations against a range of sharing-economy app companies, could substantially impact Uber’s profitability and business model.
However regulators and courts in California and other states decide the employment-classification issue, the overall impact on workers’ comp insurer operating results will not be significant, said Robert P. Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.
If courts and regulators find that sharing economy companies are employers, then workers’ comp insurers would gain only modest opportunity to write new coverage for workers not currently covered by comp policies, he added.
“It would bring the payrolls associated with tens of thousands of workers into the workers comp exposure base,” Hartwig said. “The vast majority of which is not there right now. That would represent a modest opportunity for some insurers who are inclined to write these.”
Any premium volume growth would be limited because the number of people participating in the sharing economy is “very small,” Hartwig explained. About 7 percent of the U.S. population aged 18 and older has engaged in providing sharing-economy services.
Their participation typically is limited, rather than full time, and mostly conducted to supplement other income, Hartwig added. For instance, about 16 percent of people over the age of 65 have participated in the sharing economy, doing so to earn additional income.
Any new revenue workers’ comp insurers might gain from a group of newly insured workers could be offset by losses, Burton said. Insurers already understand how to rate taxi and limousine companies, but time would tell whether losses for ride-sharing companies differ.
Hartwig also wouldn’t expect significant impact on insurers should labor departments and courts take the opposite position, finding that people providing sharing-economy services are not employees.
Evidence does not exist that workers leave traditional jobs, where they are counted as part of employer payrolls and employers’ workers’ comp insurance exposure base, to exclusively participate in on-demand economy work, he said.
“There would be some very small amount of leakage from the overall payroll base to the extent that some occupations can migrate on net to this online platform, but that leakage is very, very small,” Hartwig said.
While there have been scant definitive rulings nationwide on whether shared economy participants are employees or independent contractors, “in most cases we have seen states leaning toward the side of independent contractor status,” Burton said.
That is consistent with Uber’s position.
In a June 19 press release announcing that it will appeal the California Labor Commission ruling, the San Francisco-based company said six states have found that Uber drivers perform services as independent contractors.
Uber also said that the recent California Labor Commission ruling is contrary to a previous finding by the same body. In 2012 the Commission ruled that a driver performed services as an independent contractor and not as an employee, Uber said.
“It’s important to remember that the number one reason drivers choose to use Uber is because they have complete flexibility and control,” the release states.
“The majority of them can and do choose to earn their living from multiple sources, including other ride sharing companies.”
Pathogens, Allergens and Globalization – Oh My!
In 2014, a particular brand of cumin was used by dozens of food manufacturers to produce everything from spice mixes, hummus and bread crumbs to seasoned beef, poultry and pork products.
Yet, unbeknownst to these manufacturers, a potentially deadly contaminant was lurking…
What followed was the largest allergy-related recall since the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became law in 2006. Retailers pulled 600,000 pounds of meat off the market, as well as hundreds of other products. As of May 2015, reports of peanut contaminated cumin were still being posted by FDA.
Food manufacturing executives have long known that a product contamination event is a looming risk to their business. While pathogens remain a threat, the dramatic increase in food allergen recalls coupled with distant, global supply chains creates an even more unpredictable and perilous exposure.
Recently peanut, an allergen in cumin, has joined the increasing list of unlikely contaminants, taking its place among a growing list that includes melamine, mineral oil, Sudan red and others.
“I have seen bacterial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant.”
— Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG
“An event such as the cumin contamination has a domino effect in the supply chain,” said Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG, which was the first company to provide contaminated product coverage almost 30 years ago. “With an ingredient like the cumin being used in hundreds of products, the third party damages add up quickly and may bankrupt the supplier. This leaves manufacturers with no ability to recoup their losses.”
“The result is that a single contaminated ingredient may cause damage on a global scale,” added Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG company.
Quality and food safety professionals are able to drive product safety in their own manufacturing operations utilizing processes like kill steps and foreign material detection. But such measures are ineffective against an unexpected contaminant. “Food and beverage manufacturers are constantly challenged to anticipate and foresee unlikely sources of potential contamination leading to product recall,” said Alexandru. “They understandably have more control over their own manufacturing environment but can’t always predict a distant supply chain failure.”
And while companies of various sizes are impacted by a contamination, small to medium size manufacturers are at particular risk. With less of a capital cushion, many of these companies could be forced out of business.
Historically, manufacturing executives were hindered in their risk mitigation efforts by a perceived inability to quantify the exposure. After all, one can’t manage what one can’t measure. But AIG has developed a new approach to calculate the monetary exposure for the individual analysis of the three major elements of a product contamination event: product recall and replacement, restoring a safe manufacturing environment and loss of market. With this more precise cost calculation in hand, risk managers and brokers can pursue more successful risk mitigation and management strategies.
Product Recall and Replacement
Whether the contamination is a microorganism or an allergen, the immediate steps are always the same. The affected products are identified, recalled and destroyed. New product has to be manufactured and shipped to fill the void created by the recall.
The recall and replacement element can be estimated using company data or models, such as NOVI. Most companies can estimate the maximum amount of product available in the stream of commerce at any point in time. NOVI, a free online tool provided by AIG, estimates the recall exposures associated with a contamination event.
Restore a Safe Manufacturing Environment
Once the recall is underway, concurrent resources are focused on removing the contamination from the manufacturing process, and restarting production.
“Unfortunately, this phase often results in shell-shocked managers,” said Nevin. “Most contingency planning focuses on the costs associated with the recall but fail to adequately plan for cleanup and downtime.”
“The losses associated with this phase can be similar to a fire or other property loss that causes the operation to shut down. The consequential financial loss is the same whether the plant is shut down due to a fire or a pathogen contamination.” added Alexandru. “And then you have to factor in the clean-up costs.”
Locating the source of pathogen contamination can make disinfecting a plant after a contamination event more difficult. A single microorganism living in a pipe or in a crevice can create an ongoing contamination.
“I have seen microbial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant,” observed Alexandru.
Handling an allergen contamination can be more straightforward because it may be restricted to a single batch. That is, unless there is ingredient used across multiple batches and products that contains an unknown allergen, like peanut residual in cumin.
Supply chain investigation and testing associated with identifying a cross-contaminated ingredient is complicated, costly and time consuming. Again, the supplier can be rendered bankrupt leaving them unable to provide financial reimbursement to client manufacturers.
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet. Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
— Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance, an AIG company
Loss of Market
While the manufacturer is focused on recall and cleanup, the world of commerce continues without them. Customers shift to new suppliers or brands, often resulting in permanent damage to the manufacturer’s market share.
For manufacturers providing private label products to large retailers or grocers, the loss of a single client can be catastrophic.
“Often the customer will deem continuing the relationship as too risky and will switch to another supplier, or redistribute the business to existing suppliers” said Alexandru. “The manufacturer simply cannot find a replacement client; after all, there are a limited number of national retailers.”
On the consumer front, buyers may decide to switch brands based on the negative publicity or simply shift allegiance to another product. Given the competitiveness of the food business, it’s very difficult and costly to get consumers to come back.
“It’s a sad fact that by the time a manufacturer completes a recall, cleans up the plant and gets the product back on the shelf, some people may be hesitant to buy it.” said Nevin.
A complicating factor not always planned for by small and mid-sized companies, is publicity.
The recent incident surrounding a serious ice cream contamination forced both regulatory agencies and the manufacturer to be aggressive in remedial actions. The details of this incident and other contamination events were swiftly and highly publicized. This can be as damaging as the contamination itself and may exacerbate any or all of the three elements discussed above.
Estimating the Financial Risk May Save Your Company
“In our experience, most companies retain product contamination losses within their own balance sheet.” Nevin said. “But in reality, they rarely do a thorough evaluation of the financial risk and sometimes the company simply cannot absorb the financial consequences of a contamination. Potential for loss is much greater when factoring in all three components of a contamination event.”
This brief video provides a concise overview of the three elements of the product contamination event and the NOVI tool and benefits:
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet,” he said. “Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.