Category Archives: Industry Awards & Events

Conference Shows How Workers Comp Wheels Are Turning

March brings my annual trip to the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) conference in Boston, writes Insurance Information Institute chief actuary James Lynch:

Workers comp is an intricate dance among regulators, lawyers, employers, insurers and the medical community. WCRI’s annual conference is one of the better places to catch up on the direction the many gears are turning on the workers comp machine.

Agenda items I’m looking forward to:

  • Alternatives to opioids: The opioid epidemic, until recently, was the silent mass killer in America. I first heard about this particular scourge at the 2014 WCRI conference. That year almost 19,000 people died from opioid overdoses, yet I had never heard the term opioid. After the conference, I wrote about how the workers’ comp world grappled with the epidemic for Contingencies magazine.
    This year the conference has an update on those efforts. It also has a session on emerging alternatives like mindfulness and other cognitive approaches. Included in that session is a look at medical marijuana, an issue most insurers are approaching with grave caution.
  • Appraising the Grand Bargain in 2017: Comp, of course, is the result of the Grand Bargain. Injured workers give up the right to sue and employers agree to indemnify the injured, regardless of fault. Most insurers will tell you that bargain holds up well more than a century after it was struck. But some challenge that idea. I attended a conference last year baldly titled, “The Demise of the Grand Bargain.” And a 2016 Department of Labor (DOL) study alleged states were engaged in a “race to the bottom,” scuttling benefits to keep employers happy.
    A new president may send DOL priorities in other directions, of course, but there’s still a discussion to be had. WCRI’s conference will end with a debate among experts representing government, insurers and the legal community.

The conference is, March 2 and 3 at the Westin Copley Place, Boston. Details and registration here.

 

D.C. Luminaries Headline Boston Workers Comp Conference

Insurance Information Institute vice president of Media Relations, Michael Barry, previews the upcoming Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) annual conference:

Seldom have the political waters roiled as they have during the first weeks of the Trump presidency. A pair of political veterans will look at what that means for workers compensation insurance at a conference next month in Boston.

Former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn and former U.S. Representative Henry Waxman are appearing jointly in Boston on Thursday, March 2, to kick off the WCRI Annual Issues & Research Conference.

U.S. Senator Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, and U.S. Representative Waxman, a Democrat from California, will discuss the ‘Impact of the 2016 Election’ for health care, labor, and workers compensation at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston, MA. Their session begins at 9:15 a.m. and will conclude at 10:30 a.m.

The two distinguished former federal legislators bring impressive credentials to these issues. Before his election to the U.S. Senate (2005-2015), Dr. Coburn, a medical doctor, was a U.S. representative (1995-2000) from Oklahoma.  Former Rep. Waxman served for four decades in the U.S. House of Representatives (1975-2015) and was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The theme of this year’s WCRI conference is Persistent Challenges and New Opportunities: Using Research to Accelerate the Dialogue.” The two-day program highlights WCRI’s latest research while also drawing upon the diverse perspectives of nationally respected workers compensation experts and policymakers.

The Insurance Information Institute will also be represented. Chief Actuary James Lynch will be blogging here at Terms + Conditions from the conference.

The WCRI conference is a leading workers compensation forum for policymakers, employers, labor advocates, insurance executives, health care organizations, claims managers, researchers and other interested parties.

For additional information about the conference, or to register, log onto http://www.wcrinet.org/conference.html

Annual Workers’ Comp Conference To Focus On Opt-Out Legislation

I.I.I. chief actuary James Lynch previews the upcoming Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) annual conference:

My job involves a lot of travel, and the travel tends to be in the spring and the kickoff always seems to be the WCRI conference in Boston, which this year will be March 10 and 11 at the Westin Copley Place. It’s a great place to start.

This is my third conference. The first two have been both important and controversial.

In (my) year one, Jonathan Gruber spoke about the Affordable Care Act. It generated a lot of media coverage because he is considered one of the big thinkers behind Obamacare and its Massachusetts predecessor.

I blogged about it at Terms + Conditions. He said health care reform should help the workers comp system. Fewer workers would be uninsured, and those newly insured would be less likely to try to game their malady into a comp claim.

Last year’s conference also had a preview of research that WCRI would release formally later in the year documenting the way that Obamacare’s structure promises to shunt millions of dollars in medical costs onto workers compensation.

The short story: Obamacare encourages health plans in which doctors receive a set amount from health insurers for each patient in the doctor’s practice. If one of those patients is a borderline case between workers comp and traditional health insurance, the doctor has an incentive to call it a comp claim–it brings him more money. In his research, Dr. Richard Victor, who then was in his final months as WCRI’s executive director, showed that when presented with a similar health plan–the HMO–doctors appear to behave just that way.

In another talk, Victor said ACA’s impact will be like a hurricane. I wrote:  “Like a storm whose path is not quite defined, health care reform could take a significant toll, but we don’t know where.”

Dr. Victor has retired; his replacement is Dr. John Ruser, formerly at the Department of Labor.

This year I’m looking forward to a discussion of whether employers should be allowed to opt out of the workers compensation system. An employer that opts out of the comp system still has to provide injured workers protection but can be sued for negligence by injured employees.

Texas has always allowed qualified employers to opt out. Oklahoma became the second state to permit opting out with legislation passed in 2014. Opt-out proponents hope Tennessee and South Carolina will be next.

Insurers generally oppose opt-out legislation, feeling that the workers comp system remains a fair tradeoff of tort rights for quick, sure recovery in case of injury.

WCRI will spend a big part of its first day discussing the issue. One panel will spell out what opt out is and will feature Bill Minick, an attorney who is one of the movement’s strongest promoters. He will be joined by Trey Gillespie of the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America, which looks much more skeptically on the idea.

The second panel will include advocates on both sides of the issue, representing insurers, regulators, workers and employers.

The highlight of Day Two, for me, will be seeing my boss, Robert Hartwig, speak about how the sharing economy is likely to impact the workers compensation system. The idea: If sharing economy workers are not employees, as companies like Uber contend, they are ineligible for workers comp benefits. What will happen when those workers get hurt?

As most insurance observers know, Bob is leaving the I.I.I. in August to join academia–teaching risk management, insurance and finance courses at the University of South Carolina. He is likely the most dynamic speaker in the insurance world, and in the future he won’t be speaking nearly as frequently as he does now (that is unless you become one of his students!) So I plan to enjoy Bob’s show as often as I can the next few months.

Details on the conference, including registration information, can be found here.