Blockchain: the anatomy of a hype

Remember blockchains?

They were going to change the world. Is there a problem or challenge? Consider using a blockchain. Engaged in a business? Consider the blockchain. Thinking about where to get lunch? Again, blockchain.

No industry would be left un-disrupted. Insurance would never be the same again.

And sure, that all might come to pass someday. Very smart people are working on blockchain applications. But right now it seems like the hype bubble is bursting, at least in the public mind.

Here are Google searches for “blockchain” over the past five years in the “finance” category:

Data source: Google Trends

Here is the search for “cryptocurrency”:

Data source: Google Trends

And just for fun, here’s the valuation of bitcoin:

Data source: CoinDesk

I’m not the first person to notice this, of course. The Gartner “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” 2018 report put “blockchains” on the cusp of the dreaded “trough of disillusionment”.

Source: Gartner

Trough of disillusionment. Sounds ominous.

Why the cool down about blockchains? The short answer: expectations have begun to re-align with reality.

There are several reasons why.

Earlier this year I wrote an article for the Actuarial Review about blockchains – and how they might be solutions in search of a problem. In the article, I cited Stephen J. Mildenhall from the School of Risk Management of St. John’s University, who compared a blockchain to a military tank. In theory you could drive your kids to school in a tank. But why would you? Tanks are extremely expensive, slow and inefficient (plus, I’m not sure they’re road-legal). A minivan would be a better solution. Like a minivan, a simple SQL database could probably do most jobs that a blockchain could do, except much more cheaply, quickly and efficiently.

Another big sell of blockchains was that they were theoretically unhackable. As I wrote last year, that’s only kinda-sorta the case. Blockchains themselves might be unhackable (depending on their governance structures), but for a lot of applications they need to connect to that extremely hackable thing called The Internet. Which is why you’re regularly reading about massive cryptocurrency heists.

But just because we’re in the trough of disillusionment (sorry, I just love that phrase), doesn’t spell the end for blockchains. This is a normal process for emerging technologies: a new technology is developed, everyone gets extremely excited, then reality kicks in and the hard (and underreported) work begins of perfecting the technology for real-world use.

I wouldn’t be surprised if blockchains became silently ubiquitous for some applications in the near future – but how they’re integrated and what kind of real impact they’ll have are anyone’s guess.

In the meantime: beware the hype about any emerging technology.

I.I.I. and the Weather Channel get the word out about flood insurance

How to Get Flood Insurance

Only 12 percent of Americans have flood insurance but many more will need it in a severe weather event. Learn more at iii.org about how they are helping homeowners and renters to obtain it.

Posted by The Weather Channel on Thursday, March 7, 2019

 

To make sure that homeowners are aware of the importance of flood insurance, the I.I.I. recently partnered with the Weather Channel.

A video posted to the Weather Channel’s Facebook page demonstrates just how destructive flooding can be; for example, in the video you can see the devastation from Hurricane Sandy wreaked on Breezy Point, a coastal community in Queens NY.

“What’s remarkable about flood insurance is that only 12 percent of people have it,” says Sean Kevelighan, I.I.I.’s CEO. One misconception that people have about flood insurance is that it’s included in a homeowners policy. But that’s not the case. A separate flood policy must be obtained. Flood insurance is mostly sold by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, but some private insurers have begun offering it as well.

For those savvy enough to have purchased the coverage, it made a world of difference. “If we did not have flood insurance we would have been completely dependent on [government assistance]. It would never have been enough to fix out house”, says one resident of Breezy Point.

The video has garnered over a thousand views so far. We hope it leads to more people getting this invaluable protection.  For more information about flood insurance click here.

Rampaging animals and farm liability insurance

(thankfully) placid cows

According to Deutsche Welle, an Austrian court has held a farmer liable after one of his cows killed a hiker walking through his farm. The article reported that the cow grew enraged at the hiker’s dog and charged at them. The farmer will have to pay over $200,000 in restitution for the horrible event to the deceased’s spouse and son.

I’m not well-versed on the nuances of Austrian liability law and insurance. But what if a similar (hopefully non-fatal) accident happened on a farm in the U.S. – how would insurance play a role?

Luckily, there’s a thing called “farm insurance.” It can get complicated, but often a farm insurance policy is just a hodgepodge of property and liability coverages – with a lot of customization in between for the unique needs of each farm.

Today, let’s just focus on the liability part. Imagine Farmer Joe’s cow, Betty, runs wild and breaks the leg of someone visiting his farm. What happens?

Paying for liability damages and medical expenses

The standard farm liability policy will cover damages if someone is hurt on the farm (subject to various limitations and exclusions, of course). So when Betty breaks someone’s leg, Farmer Joe’s insurance will help cover any damages he has to pay. The farm policy will also pay for some medical expenses, regardless of who is at fault for the injury. Medical expenses usually include first aid and other necessary services.

Feats of strength are not covered

Easy enough. But imagine another scenario: Farmer Joe is holding a cow race on his farm and has invited his neighbors to watch. Betty breaks loose from the race track and breaks his neighbor’s leg. In this case, Farmer Joe is probably not covered for any injuries arising out of races, strength contests, or stunts. Nor is he covered if someone got hurt while riding Betty for a fee.

Lots of policies, lots of options

There are many types of farms: dairy farms, cattle ranches, horse farms, poultry farms, agritourism farms. There are many different types of insurance coverages available for each unique situation. Here’s just a taste:

  • Horse farms and ranches (property and liability)
  • Commercial equine (liability for horse-breeding operations)
  • Equine (business coverage if a horse becomes ill or dies)
  • Livestock insurance (covers animals other than horses)
  • Crop insurance
  • Farrier (property and liability for people who shoe horses)
  • Riding instructor
  • Roadside farm stand and farmers’ market insurance
  • Agritourism (corn mazes, on-premises hay rides, petting zoos)

It’s always important to talk to an insurance agent about your coverage needs. You may not think that you have farm liability exposures, but if you live in a semi-rural or rural area and own livestock, it’s probably a good idea to double check.

You can read more about farm and ranch insurance here.

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, March 8 to March 14

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I.I.I. Report: Marijuana legalization raises concerns about drugged driving

The “green gold rush” shows no sign of slowing.

Most recently, New Jersey legislators reportedly announced a bill that would permit recreational marijuana. If signed into law, New Jersey would join ten other states and D.C. that currently permit recreational marijuana. More than 30 states and D.C. also permit medical marijuana programs of some kind.

click to enlarge

But as legalization spreads, concerns about driving under the influence of marijuana continue unabated.

Today, the I.I.I. has published a report that examines the current state of the issue.

A rocky road so far: Recreational marijuana and impaired driving” dives into the hazy questions surrounding marijuana impairment: its effects on driving abilities, how traffic safety might be impacted, and how states are grappling with the issue of “stoned driving.” (Download the report here.)

Unfortunately, there are still many unknowns when it comes to stoned driving. Marijuana impairment degrades cognitive and motor skills, of course – but marijuana-impaired driving is an evolving issue with many questions and few concrete answers. Legalization is still relatively recent. Data are still being gathered. How to understand and measure marijuana impairment are still open questions.

Do the rates of marijuana-impaired driving increase following recreational legalization? Answer: probably. Does marijuana-impaired driving increase crash risks? Answer: probably, but we still don’t concretely know to what degree. What about traffic fatalities – do those increase after legalization? There’s evidence that traffic fatalities could increase following legalization, but there is still quite a bit of discussion about this issue.

click to enlarge

There is active research, discussion and debate being conducted to answer these and other questions. As more states legalize recreational marijuana, forthcoming answers will become ever more critical to help best guide public policy and traffic safety initiatives.

To learn more, download the report here.

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, March 1 to March 7

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Study: One third of Americans lie on auto insurance applications

Most people agree that honesty is the best policy, but when it comes to filling out insurance applications, many consumers are willing to fudge the truth to get a better rate. According to a study from finder.com, an estimated 35 million Americans have lied on an insurance application.

Almost one in three (29 percent) of the people who have lied on an insurance application have done so for car insurance. That amounts to 10.2 million Americans who were willing to lie to get the best coverage for the road.

Following car insurance, false information is most likely to appear on applications for health insurance (22 percent), life insurance (21 percent), income protection insurance (8 percent), travel insurance (7 percent), home and contents insurance (7 percent) and pet insurance (5 percent).

More men lie than women, but women are more likely than men to lie on an application in five of seven categories: health insurance, income protection insurance, travel insurance, home and contents insurance and pet insurance. Men lead women when it comes to lying on car insurance and life insurance applications.

“Taking creative liberties on your insurance application may seem like an innocent white lie, but it’s actually considered fraud, and the repercussions can be serious. If found out you may be charged a higher premium, denied a policy or even charged with fraud, requiring you to pay a fine or even do jail time,” said Finder’s consumer advocate Rachel Dix- Kessler.

There are numerous ways to save money on car insurance. The Insurance Information Institute has these tips for shopping around for the best policy.

For more information on insurance fraud click here.

The future of telemedicine and workers’ compensation insurance

You can’t talk about workers’ compensation insurance these days without mentioning “telemedicine” at least once. It should therefore come as no surprise that telemedicine was given its own panel discussion at the 2019 Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Annual Issues and Research Conference.

(In case you don’t know, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) defines telemedicine as the “remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology.” Think of an app that lets you video chat with a doctor, for example.)

The potential benefits of telemedicine to patients, providers, and employers could be immense. Improved access to healthcare services. Fast, personalized care. Treatment efficiencies. Reduced costs. Dr. Stephen Dawkins of Caduceus USA put it this way: “It’s crystal clear, as a provider, that telemedicine is a tsunami that will change the paradigm of medical care.”

Indeed, as Dr. David Deitz of Deitz & Associates noted, telemedicine is almost the perfect storm of improved healthcare services – and is already experiencing exponential growth in the commercial health sector. Citing the ATA, he noted that there were an estimated 1.25 million telehealth visits in 2016 alone – and that some sources estimate that over 400 million of U.S. medical visits could have been telemedicine encounters.

But has telemedicine made inroads into workers’ compensation?

Dr. Deitz pointed out that there is “essentially no quantitative data on [telemedicine] use in workers’ compensation.” Furthermore, he argued that there are several open questions when it comes to telemedicine: what are the appropriate regulations and reimbursement models? Is there a quality trade-off for telemedicine versus in-person encounters? Are there any privacy or cybersecurity concerns?

Kurt Leisure, vice president of risk services for The Cheesecake Factory, offered some preliminary answers when describing his company’s new telemedicine program for worker injuries, implemented in February 2018.

According to Leisure, the program basically works as follows. An injury occurs. If urgent, the injured worker proceeds directly to urgent care or the emergency room. If it’s non-urgent, the worker calls the company’s nurse triage system for preliminary care. If the phone call isn’t enough, the worker has the option of being escalated to a telemedicine program on their smartphone.

What have been the results so far? Generally positive, with the program leading to $153,000 in hard dollar savings in 2018. But Leisure did note that there are still wrinkles that need to be ironed out. Identification of telemedicine candidates during the triage phase needs improvement.  Employee trust in the program could also improve.

But the injured workers seem to approve of the program. “Overall, I’m really excited, there’s a lot of upside potential just in our initial program,” Leisure said. “I think it will explode over time.” One particular benefit of telemedicine could be keeping workers and employers out of the courtroom. “We think the litigation rate is going to drop significantly” with widespread and effective telemedicine, said Leisure.

Indeed, despite some open questions about workers’ compensation adoption of telemedicine, the panel agreed that the industry would benefit tremendously. “Telemedicine basically gives you a conduit through which you can achieve better case management,” said Dr. Dawkins.

WCRI Annual Conference: Opioid Crisis Still Very Much Top of Mind

Unsurprisingly, the opioid crisis was a major topic of conversation at the 2019 Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Annual Issues and Research Conference.

Workers’ compensation insurance has been particularly affected by the crisis. Opioid use can, perversely, increase a worker’s risk of disability. Opioid use can lead to dependency, which results in increased dosages and higher costs. Dependency can lead to abuse; abuse can result in on-the-job performance impairment and further injuries – or it can delay a worker’s ability to return to work. In the worst case scenario, abuse leads to addiction and death.

These are just some of the reasons why opioid use can significantly increase the costs of workers’ compensation claims.

The crisis continues

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 70,327 people died from fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2017.

That’s up from 63,632 in 2016 and 23,518 in 2002, a three-fold increase in absolute terms in 15 years. But of course, the U.S. population grew over that time – and the death rate per 100,000 people is also alarming, rising from 8.2 in 2002 to 21.7 in 2017.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More alarming yet, the opioid epidemic continues to drive a significant portion of total drug overdose deaths. 47,600 people died from an opioid-related drug overdose in 2017, making up fully 68 percent of total overdose deaths. That’s up from 11,920 in 2002.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As Dr. Alan Krueger of Princeton University noted, the problem is most concentrated among men and women with lower levels of education: “Americans with diminished economic expectations are particularly vulnerable to the opioid epidemic.”

But no one is immune, he added. “Essentially no group has been spared from this crisis in the U.S.”

Blue-collar trades especially impacted

Dr. Vennela Thumela of the WCRI presented recent findings about the correlates of opioid abuse and overdose. She found that mining and constructions workers were most impacted, representing the highest percentage of opioid prescriptions among all workers receiving pain medications. Higher rates of opioid prescriptions also correlated with workers who are older, male, and live in rural areas.

Dr. Letitia Davis, of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, found Massachusetts-specific evidence agreeing with Dr. Thumela’s findings. The highest opioid overdose death rates in the state are for construction/mining workers and farming/fishing/forestry workers. Construction workers overdosed at six times the rate expected based on average experience.

In fact, per Dr. Davis, 24 percent of all opioid deaths in the state between 2011 to 2015 were construction workers.

The costs are staggering

Dr. Krueger put it bluntly: “This is a human tragedy.”

It has also been a tremendous tragedy to the U.S. economy. Dr. Krueger cited a 2017 Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report, which estimated that in 2015 alone, the economic cost of the opioid crisis was over $500 billion – or 2.8 percent of GDP. Dr. Krueger noted that the number of opioid-related overdoses in 2017 increased by at least 50 percent since 2015 – implying a cost in 2017 alone of about $750 billion.

As Dr. Krueger put it, “We have not done enough to address the scale of the crisis. Even if it has reached a peak, it has reached a peak of an unacceptably high level.”

From the I.I.I. Daily: Our most popular content, February 22 to February 28

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