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.
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.
Medication Monitoring Achieves Better Outcomes
There are approximately three million workplace injuries in any given year. Many, if not the majority, involve the use of prescription medications and a significant portion of these medications is for pain. In fact, prescription medications are so prevalent in workers’ compensation that they account for 70% of total medical spend, with roughly one third being Schedule II opioids (Helios; NCCI; WCRI; et al.). According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), between the years of 1997 and 2007, the daily milligram per person use of prescription opioids in the United States rose 402%, increasing from an average of 74 mg to 369 mg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, in 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions—enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills—and 46 people die every day from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the US. Suffice to say, the appropriate use of opioid analgesics continues to be a serious issue in the United States.
Stakeholders throughout the workers’ compensation industry are seeking solutions to bend the curve away from misuse and abuse and these concerning statistics. Change is happening: The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) and the Work Loss Data Institute have published updated guidelines to promote more clinically appropriate use of opioids in the treatment of occupational injuries. State legislatures are implementing and enhancing prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). The Food and Drug Association (FDA) is rescheduling medications. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are creating abuse-deterrent formulations. Meanwhile payers, generally in concert with their pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), are expending considerable effort to build global medication management programs that emphasize proactive utilization management to ensure injured workers are receiving the right medication at the right time.
A variety of factors can still influence the outcome of a workers’ compensation claim. Some are long-recognized for their affect on a claim; for example, body part, nature of injury, state of jurisdiction, and regulatory policy. In contrast, prescribing practices and physician demographics are perhaps a bit unexpected given the more contemporary data analysis showing their influence on outcomes. Such is the case for medication monitoring. Medication monitoring tools promote patient safety, confirm adherence, and identify potential high-risk, high-cost claims. Three of the more common medication monitoring tools include:
- Urine Drug Testing (UDT) is an analysis of the injured worker’s urine that detects the presence or absence of a specified drug. Although it is not a diagnosis, UDT results are generally a reliable indicator of what is present (and what is not) in the injured body worker’s system. The knowledge gained through the testing helps to minimize risks for undesired consequences including misuse, abuse, and diversion of opioids. With this information in hand, adjustments to the medication therapy regimen or other intervention activities can occur. UDT can also be an agent of positive change, as monitoring often leads to behavior modification, whether in direct response to an unexpected testing result or from the sentinel effect of knowing that medication use is being monitored.
- Medication Agreements or “Pain Contracts” signed by the injured worker and their prescribing doctor serve as a detailed and well-documented informed consent describing the risks and benefits associated with the use of prescription pain medications. Medication agreements help the prescribing doctor set expectations regarding the patient’s adherence to the prescribed medication therapy regimen. They serve as a means to facilitate care and provide for a way to document mutual understanding by clearly delineating the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of each party. Research also suggests that medication agreements promote safety and education as injured workers learn more about their therapy regimen, its risks, and benefits.
- Pill Counts quantify adherence by comparing the number of doses remaining in a pill bottle with the number of doses that should remain based on prescription instructions. Most often, physicians request pill counts at random intervals or the physician may ask the injured worker to bring their medication to all appointments. As a monitoring tool, pill counts can be useful in confirming proper use, or conversely, diversion activities.
On a stand-alone basis, these tools rank high on individual merit. When used together as part of a consolidated medication management approach, their impact escalates quite favorably. The collective use of UDT, Medication Agreements, and pill counts enhance decision-making, eliminating gaps in understanding. Their use raises awareness of potential high-risk, high-cost situations. Moreover, when used in concert with a collaborative effort on the part of the payer, PBM, physician, and injured worker, they can improve communication and align objectives to mitigate misuse or abuse situations throughout the life of a claim.
Medication monitoring can achieve better outcomes
The vast majority of injured workers use medications as directed. Unfortunately, situations of misuse and abuse are far too common. Studies show a growing trend of discrepancies between the medication prescription and actual medication-regimen adherence when it comes to claimants on opioid therapy (Health Trends: Prescription Drug Monitoring Report, 2012). In response, payers, working alongside with their PBM and other stakeholders, are deploying medication monitoring tools with greater frequency to verify the injured worker is appropriately using their medications, particularly opioid analgesics. The good news is these efforts are working. Forty-five percent of patients with previously demonstrated aberrant drug-related behaviors were able to adhere to their medication regimens after management with drug testing or in combination with signed treatment agreements and multispecialty care (Laffer Associates and Millennium Research Institute, October 2011).
In our own studies, we have similarly found that clinical interventions performed in conjunction with medication monitoring tools such as UDT reduces utilization of high-risk medications in injured workers on chronic opioid therapy. Results showed there was a decrease in all measures of utilization, driven primarily by opioids (32% decrease) and benzodiazepines (51% decrease), as well as a 26% reduction in total utilization of all medications, regardless of drug class. This is proof positive that medication monitoring can be useful in achieving better outcomes.