A Revisit: Impact of Obamacare on Workers Comp

I.I.I. chief actuary Jim Lynch previews the Workers Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Annual Issues & Research conference:

This time last year, property/casualty insurers worried how the Affordable Care Act’s rollout would affect workers compensation insurance. The debate seemed to disappear as the law took hold, but research to be unveiled at a March workers compensation conference in Boston might return the issue to the limelight.

The big fear a year ago was cost-shifting, and both health insurers and comp insurers felt costs would be shifted onto them. The issue was the borderline claim, one that could arguably be a health claim or a comp claim.

Consider a person with a lingering back injury. The injury could have been caused by heavy lifting at work or at home, and the injured person might be able to make a claim on either health insurance or workers comp.

Comp insurers worried that the ACA was tightening health insurance cost controls better than comp insurers were allowed to. As the cost containment took hold, cases that straddled the border might drift into the workers comp world.

Health insurers, meanwhile, worried that they would take on claims of the previously uninsured, some of whom used to find a way to make that borderline case into a workers comp claim.

Research swung both ways. As the law has rolled out, the issue dissipated, at least among the mainstream media. If there was an impact, it appeared to be too small to measure.

Now the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), a Cambridge, MA, not-for-profit organization has looked at the ACA/comp issue again, specifically the potential effect of accountable care organizations on the workers comp system.

Accountable care organizations add to health care’s alphabet soup by being known as ACOs. They are groups of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers that combine to form networks that coordinate patient care. If they can save money while keeping quality high, they share in the savings. Kaiser Health News has a Q&A with details on how ACOs work.

The health care law offers incentives to create ACOs, but WCRI’s research indicates that “as ACOs become the norm, the number of workers compensation claims is very likely to increase,” said Richard A. Victor, WCRI executive director. The dreaded cost-shifting may be on its way.

Details of WCRI’s analysis will be released at the organization’s annual Issues and Research Conference March 5 and 6 in Boston. Other sessions at the conference will cover physician-dispensing of drugs, low fee schedules, a look at workers comp reform over the past two decades and look at challenges the line of business faces in the years ahead.

The I.I.I. has an Issues Update on workers compensation, one of the oldest casualty lines of business and one of the most complex.

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