This week in comp, July 22, 2016

This week in comp is a weekly digest of workers’ compensation news from around the country.

Texas Mutual news

It’s dividend season at Texas Mutual
Dollar Bills
Texas Mutual will distribute a company-record $240 million in dividends more than 45,000 safety-conscious policyholder owners in 2016. This weeks blog post explained the dividend program components and showed how policyholders can improve their chances of earning future dividends…MORE

Texas Mutual pays $176,118 dividend to Cattle Feeders safety group
Texas Mutual recently awarded a $176,118 dividend to the Texas Cattle Feeders Association workers’ compensation safety group. The dividend was based on group members’ commitment to preventing workplace accidents and minimizing their costs when they do occur…MORE

Safety

How the construction app boom is changing the job site
apps
Technology is changing the way we work, and the construction industry is no exception. In 2014, one-third of construction firms used more than five mobile business apps…MORE

ROI and VOI: A strong wellness program measures both
The return on investment in employee wellness programs is well-documented and easy to calculate. Studies show employers can see a $1.50 to $3 return – largely in the form of health care savings – for every dollar they invest in employee wellness. The business case for wellness is even stronger when you consider the value on investment, such as improved work satisfaction and decreased absenteeism…MORE

New Zika case throws investigators a curve ball
mosquito
The case of a Utah man who contracted Zika after caring for his infected father has raised questions for health experts about how the mosquito-borne virus spreads. When he passed away, the man’s father had more than 100,000 times the amount of Zika in his blood than typical victims. That could mean high levels were also present in his saliva and urine…MORE

Underwriting

Construction market keeps building: Brokers’ outlook on current & future opportunities
Construction workerConstruction is picking up across the country, and more carriers are competing for business. Time-tested laws of economics dictate that with increased competition comes decreased rates. But experts also attribute this buyers’ market to the industry’s improved safety record…MORE

Machine learning for UBI: An optimal path to insurance ratemaking?
Traditional insurance ratemaking approaches consider numerous rating variables to estimate risk, but they often take a more circuitous path than necessary. Usage-based insurance (UBI) programs offer an alternative approach. UBI programs use sophisticated decision-making tools to discern the variables that most closely “map” to each policyholder’s estimated loss propensity…MORE

Fraud

Fraud concerns emerge as compounding drug sales skyrocket
pill bottle with moneyThe federal government’s workers’ compensation program saw spending on compounded medications grow from $2.35 million in fiscal 2011 to $214 million in fiscal 2015. Some of those prescriptions may not have been medically necessary. Others may not have been dispensed at all…MORE

Pharmaceutical worker admits role in compound medication scheme
A New Jersey pharmaceutical employee admitted filling his own medically unnecessary prescriptions and recruiting others to do the same as part of a scheme to fraudulently obtain reimbursements for compound medication prescriptions. The scheme resulted in $3.69 million in losses…MORE

Claims

Commercial lines insurers investing in tech for claims, underwriting data
Drones, the Internet of Things, robots and autonomous vehicles are poised to transform the insurance industry. These technologies promise to reduce the need for on-site adjusters and investigators, while improving underwriting and pricing…MORE

Congress approves $180 million in funding to combat opioid abuse
Congress passed a bill authorizing the Department of Justice to distribute $180 million to help state and local governments combat the opioid crisis…MORE

Health care costs

Companies leverage wellness programs to control health care spending
Fitness shoesHealth care costs in America are no longer inflated; they’re “hyperinflated.” In 2015, companies spent close to $10,000 on health care benefits for each employee. Employers can reduce those costs by investing in a wellness program. Texas Mutual reports that 97 percent of its employees participate in its wellness program, helping the company save nearly $4,000 per employee on health care costs…MORE

New WCRI studies examine impact of reforms on physician dispensing
The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) releasedeight studies that exam the impact of state reforms to the rules for drugs dispensed by doctors to injured workers. The studies focus on three primary outcomes:  1. Did the reforms lead to price reductions for physician-dispensed drugs? 2. Did physicians continue to dispense after the reforms? 3. Are there emerging issues that suggest unintended consequences of the reforms?…MORE

It’s dividend season at Texas Mutual!

Earlier this summer Texas Mutual announced that we’ll be distributing a company-record $240 million in dividends in late July. These dividends make a big difference for the thousands of policyholders across the state who receive them. This year, more than 45,000 business owners will open their mailbox to find a dividend check that they can use to help offset workers’ comp costs, re-invest into safety equipment and training, or just give a boost to their bottom line. But how exactly do policyholders earn a Texas Mutual dividend or maximize their return? Take a look at the dividend video below to see how the dividend process works, then read on for ways to make the most of Texas Mutual’s dividend program.

 

As the video shows, there are two components of a Texas Mutual dividend: safety and loyalty. The area you have the greatest opportunity to make an impact in is safety. Workplace safety isn’t just good for company morale and productivity. It also has a significant impact on your bottom line. Fewer workplace accidents can potentially mean less lost work time, lower claims costs and even a greater dividend. Because dividends are determined largely based on loss ratio, you have the power to increase your chances of qualifying for one by making safety a priority.

Workplace safety can seem daunting, so we have thousands of free resources available to help you launch safety programs, educate employees and maintain safe environments. The safety resource center at texasmutual.com gives policyholders exclusive access, and worksafetexas.com keeps you in the know about trending safety issues. Our safety services support center is also available at 844-WORKSAFE Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help you identify the best resources for your business or connect you with a safety services consultant.

Another way to improve your loss ratio is to have a solid return-to-work program in place so that when accidents do occur, you have a plan for minimizing losses and getting workers back on the job. Texas Mutual has a number of resources to help with this, and our recent post about return-to-work is a great place to start.

These resources and plans may seem like small steps, but they could add up to a dividend for your business. Find out more about Texas Mutual’s dividend program by clicking here.

This Week in Comp, July 15, 2016

This Week in Comp is a weekly digest of workers’ compensation news from around the country.

Safety

OSHA delays deadline for anti-retaliation provisions in recordkeeping rule
deadline
OSHA pushed back the deadline for employers to comply with anti-retaliation provisions in its new recordkeeping rule from August 10 to November 1, 2016. OSHA will use the extra time to lead outreach efforts and offer additional guidance to employers who have questions about the rule…MORE

Texas records first Zika-related birth defect
Texas received laboratory confirmation of a past Zika virus infection in a baby recently born with microcephaly in Harris County. The mother traveled from Latin America, where she was likely infected, and the baby acquired the infection in the womb. Neither baby nor mother is infectious, and there is no additional risk in Texas…MORE

Pokémon Go fantasy game creates real-life vulnerabilities
Pokémon Go descended on the U.S. gaming scene last week and mesmerized player of all ages. The game allows players to straddle the line between fantasy and reality in search of creatures with names such as Diglett, Ponyta and Doduo. Gamers should remember that although Pokémon Go offers a fantasy experience, it presents real-world risks, such as sharing personal information online, driving or walking while distracted, and being lured into dangerous places…MORE

Work can be a stressful, dangerous place: NPR study
American workers are stressed out and exposed to safety hazards on the job, according to a new National Public Radio study. Overall, 43 percent of working adults say their jobs negatively affect their stress levels. And despite increased awareness of the importance of workplace safety, 45 percent of low-wage workers report they face on-the-job hazards…MORE

Underwriting

NCCI announces new chief regulatory services officer
Susan Donegan will serve as chief regulatory services officer of the National Council on Compensation Insurance effective September 19, 2016.  Donegan’s career includes leadership positions, including counsel to the commissioner of insurance in Massachusetts and executive director at an international non-governmental organization, as well as a private law and consulting practice…MORE

Fitch: U.S. workers’ comp insurance swung to profit in 2015
MoneytrendAfter years of underwriting losses, underwriting performance for the U.S. property/casualty (P/C) industry’s workers’ compensation line generated a significant profit in 2015, according to a new report from Fitch Ratings. Fitch attributes the turnaround to  past premium rate increases, stable loss cost trends and improved loss reserve experience…MORE

Summit identifies top 3 system issues
Benefit adequacy, regulatory complexity and treatment delays are the top three issues facing the workers’ compensation system, according stakeholders who participated in the Dallas workers’ compensation summit…MORE

Survey reveals what agents value in their lead carriers
Agents value commercial line carriers’ claims service, competitive pricing and customer service more than they did five years ago, according to the ninth annual Channel Harvest survey. This years survey also indicated agents value their carrier’s underwriting responsiveness. Five years ago, agents gave the highest marks for underwriting expertise…MORE

Combined Agents of America names Cross as CEO
Combined Agents of America LLC (CAA) has hired Peter Cross as its new chief executive officer. Before joining CAA, Cross served as managing director at ARM Risk Solutions…MORE

Claims

Wearable tech gives claim investigators another tool
wearableFitness trackers, smart watches, heart-rate monitors, blood-sugar monitors, GPS trackers and other wearable devices collect and store huge amounts of information. A claimant’s personal data from one of these devices may produce critical evidence in a claim investigation…MORE

Study: 43% of insurers’ prescription payments going to specialty drugs
pill bottle with moneySpending on expensive “specialty” drugs by commercial insurance plans jumped from 11 percent of spending on all prescriptions filled in 2003 to
43 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, patients’ out-of-pocket costs for pricey drugs climbed
46 percent over that period. The rise is driven by annual double-digit price hikes for many drugs, drugs for cancer and rare diseases that command prices of $100,000 or more per year, and millions of recently insured patients gaining prescription coverage…MORE

Dispense as written
When an insurance company nurse put on her detective hat and started digging, she discovered how a claimant inappropriately received brand-name opioids instead of generic. The nurse’s investigative skills helped lower the patient’s morphine equivalent dose, restore their life and save the policyholder money…MORE

Fraud

Ohio health care worker convicted of workers’ comp fraud
A Cleveland woman caught holding a regular job while receiving injured worker’s benefits must pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation $16,000 and serve five years’ probation. Investigators call this type of fraud double-dipping because the claimant collects benefits for being too injured to work when he or she is, in fact, gainfully employed…MORE

Group introduces app to help fight insurance fraud
apps
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud has rolled out an app that gives investigators instant access to critical information from anywhere in the field. FraudWire makes it easy for users to tap into fraud news, weekly blogs, podcasts, videos, fraud trends and other information from the coalition’s website. The coalition notes that 40 percent of users access its website on mobile devices…MORE

Cop/strongman contestant faces fraud charges
A California police officer reported a work-related injury and began collecting workers’ compensation benefits. Meanwhile, an investigation uncovered evidence the man, a former college football player, competed in “strongman” contests while collecting benefits…MORE

Return-to-Work: Job descriptions are your ace in the hole

You work hard to prevent on-the-job injuries, but accidents happen. When they do, the goal is to get the employee well and back to work. One of the first questions your insurance carrier will ask is, “Can the employee still do their normal job?”

That question is tough to answer if we don’t know what the employee’s normal job duties are.

Watch this short video to see how a near-fatal accident sent Lonnie Williams down a new career path.

Thorough job descriptions for every position at your company are critical to the return-to-work process. They are important pieces of the disability puzzle that help vocational case managers put on their creative return-to-work thinking caps.

A vocational case manager’s job is to evaluate the injured worker’s normal job duties. Then, they coordinate with doctors to get a work release based on agreed upon modifications to the original job.

Thorough job descriptions pay close attention to the physical demands of each task. In developing job descriptions, ask yourself these types of questions:

  • How much does the employee have to lift? How high? How often and how long?
  • What kind of tools and equipment does the employee use?
  • What are the environmental conditions (heat, cold, noise)?
  • How long does the employee sit, stand or bend?
  • Does the job comply with the employee’s new work restrictions?

That last question can be tough to tackle, but remember that you don’t have to answer it alone. The physician can help if you provide a good job description.

The Texas Department of Insurance created form DWC-74 as a template for communicating injured workers’ job duties to physicians. A thorough DWC-74 tells the physician exactly what the employee does on the job every day. From there, the doctor determines whether the employee can still do those tasks.

If not, the doctor will use form DWC-74 to explain the injured worker’s restrictions. Your vocational case manager can use that information to identify alternative productive work the employee can do while they recover.

Your insurance carrier might be able to help you develop job descriptions. For example, Texas Mutual employs the state’s largest team of workplace safety professionals. They help our policyholders analyze jobs and develop written job descriptions for the return-to-work process.

For more information about writing job descriptions, see page 17 of Texas Mutual’s Return-to-Work Kit for a Physical Demands Task Assessment checklist. For more information on return-to-work, visit our website.

 

Regulatory Roundup, July 8, 2016

Regulatory Roundup is a weekly digest of wellness, safety and other workers’ compensation news.

Safety

Employers grapple with OSHA’s stance on blanket post-injury drug testing
In its improved injury tracking rule, OSHA suggests blanket post-injury drug-testing policies deter proper reporting of injuries to the agency. Many employers plan to respond to the new rule by eliminating post-accident testing entirely, but OSHA stresses that is not the rule’s intent…MORE

OSHA to increase maximum penalties by 78 percent
IncreaseEffective Aug. 1, 2016, OSHA will increase the maximum penalty for serious violations from $7,000 to $12,471. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will increase from $70,000 to $124,709. The increase reflects inflation since OSHA last increased fines in 1990…MORE

BLS data sheds light on injury, illness trends
During most times of the day or night, overexertion involving outside sources is the most common cause of workplace injuries or illnesses for which people miss work to recuperate, according to new BLS data. Between 4:01 a.m. and 8 a.m., falls to the same level are a leading cause of workplace injuries or illnesses…MORE

Texas strengthens Zika efforts as threat persists
Texas health officials don’t expect widespread Zika transmission this summer, but they want to be ready just in case. This week, the DSHS hosted a Zika summit in McAllen. Health and local leaders participated in two tabletop exercises, walking through how they would handle the first confirmed local Zika transmission, as well as sustained transmission. Visit the DSHS website for the latest information on Zika…MORE

Laws, regulations

NM Supreme Court rules ag workers entitled to workers’ comp protection
legislationThe New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a nearly 100-year-old provision in state law that allows agricultural employers to opt out of the workers’ compensation system is unconstitutional. The provision allowed employers with more than three employees to opt out of coverage for farm and ranch laborers but not other agricultural workers…MORE

NCCI releases quarterly economics briefing
Payroll increased for most states and industry groups last year, but some states experienced declines, particularly in manufacturing and contracting, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance Quarterly Economics Briefing. The briefing examines the state of the economy and the implications for workers’ compensation insurance…MORE

Fraud

Investigators foil 15-year, $429K workers’ comp fraud scheme
Handcuff FraudA New York woman who fraudulently collected $429,000 in workers’ compensation benefits between 2001 and 2016 is facing 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The woman claimed an on-the-job injury rendered her housebound. Video surveillance showed her raking leaves, mowing the lawn, carrying large pails of yard waste and bending over repeatedly…MORE

Claims

Workers’ comp disability guidelines withdrawn from guidelines.gov
The Work Loss Data Institute (WLDI) has withdrawn its Official Disability Guidelines from the National Guideline Clearinghouse (NGC). The WLDI said the NGC review team found it too difficult to keep up with continuous updates to a large number of topics and recommendations to the ODG…MORE

New rules ease restrictions on doctors who treat opioid addiction
Narcotics with Prescription Warning LabelThe Health and Human Services department issued new rules that increase the number of opioid-addicted patients doctors can treat with buprenorphine, a medication that eases withdrawal symptoms, from 100 to 275 per year…MORE

Maine delivers a quiet blow in battle against opioid epidemic
States across the Northeast recently made noise by adopting 7-day initial opioid script laws. A measure taken by Maine isn’t making headlines, but it might prove far more significant in the battle against opioid abuse. Effective Jan. 1, 2017, doctors cannot prescribe any combination of opioid medication in an aggregate amount in excess of 100 morphine milligram equivalents of opioid medication per day…MORE

State fund news

Texas Mutual thinks outside the box to save lives
Imagine experiencing four of the construction industry’s deadliest hazards and living to tell about it. Texas Mutual recently rolled out a virtual reality app, aptly named Safety in a Box, that empowers users to learn lifesaving lessons without putting themselves in harm’s way…MORE

SFM Mutual Insurance acquires Minnesota’s Barrier Free Access
State Fund Minnesota has acquired Barrier Free Access, a Byron, Minn.-based provider of safe patient handling products, design consultation and training to medical facilities across the Upper Midwest…MORE

Texas Mutual thinks inside the box to save lives

David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

Safety resonates loudest when we deliver the message where the work gets done – auto repair shops, manufacturing facilities, oil rigs. So I decided to ditch the comfort of my ergonomically correct office chair and walk a construction site this morning. The experience could have cost me my life.

Everything was fine until I got distracted by a text message and fell about 20 feet off the roof I was scrutinizing.

If you believe bad things happen in bunches, the ensuing events won’t surprise you.

In the span of five minutes, I managed to absorb the blow of a falling cinder block, get engulfed in a trench collapse and run head-on into a high-voltage wire. Talk about a shock.

Fortunately, my brushes with death were virtual, not literal, thanks to a new app developed by Texas Mutual. The app, aptly named Safety in a Box, empowers users to learn life-saving lessons without putting themselves in harm’s way. Here’s how it works.

Safety in a box walks users through four common construction site hazards.

Safety in a box walks users through four common construction site hazards.

The user downloads the Safety in a Box app onto their smartphone. Then, they slip their phone into a cardboard viewer also aptly named Google Cardboard. The app takes it from there, walking the user through a construction site, where they encounter the industry’s four deadliest workplace hazards: falls, electrocutions, struck-by incidents and trenching incidents.

Safety in a Box is a product of a new phenomenon that is changing the way we protect workers from on-the-job injuries. Of course, there will never be a substitute for time-tested safe work behaviors. But those behaviors are increasingly being supplemented by tech tools that remove human error from the equation.

The union between technology and safety has already been fruitful, and there’s certainly more to come. In case you haven’t been keeping score, here’s a quick review of where were are.

Apps
Millennials live life largely from their mobile devices. Safety professionals are meeting them on their terms with a host of powerful apps. Concerned your employees need hearing protection? There’s an app for that. Want to know what to do in case of a tornado, fire or other natural disaster? There’s an app for that, too.

This 50-second video shows how to set Safety in a Box up in five simple steps.

Wearables
The wellness industry has been leveraging wearable technology for years to help people eat, exercise and sleep their way to better health. Technology and safety professionals built on the concept, designing wearable tools that gather data about us and our surroundings, and then nudge us toward safer behaviors.

Driver-assist safety tools
Blind-spot warning systems, smart headlights and other driver-assist safety features are a priority for 76 percent of drivers who are at least 50 years old, according to a new survey. The survey suggests older drivers equate advanced technology with enhanced safety. Still, safe-driving principles will never go out of style. So buckle up, slow down, stay awake and focus on driving.

Autonomous vehicles
Driver-assist safety tools represent the half-way point toward technology’s ultimate destination: removing humans and our flaws from the act of driving. Google has been testing fully autonomous vehicles in select markets, including right here in Austin. With backing from the government, 10 million self-driving cars could be on the road by 2020. At that point, we’ll simply be along for the ride.

Stay tuned
Technology is revolutionizing safety at a dizzying pace. Today’s trendy tools could be tomorrow’s relics. Follow our blog and stay up-to-date on the latest developments.

Free resources for Texas Mutual’s agent community

04e7b5b8-d910-4da9-8de9-b031ae2f4b5dAs an agent, you know you can count on us as an educational resource for your Texas Mutual clients, but what you may not know is that we’re also a resource for you. Our agent community has access to many educational opportunities and tools to help with understanding workers’ comp insurance, the industry, and how to best help clients improve their bottom line. From online tools to news updates to in-person events, there are countless opportunities for our agents to learn and grow.

Below are a few of our most helpful resources, which are all available to Texas Mutual’s agent community.

Marketing materials

At texasmutual.com, agents can access a number of marketing materials that do double duty, helping you understand all that Texas Mutual has to offer while also assisting you with selling to clients. On this page, agents can find information sheets, the Employer’s Guide to Workers’ Comp, safety group information, our annual report and more.

Live events

Texas Mutual offers many live events that our agent community can attend throughout the year.  Our workshops and Producer Day events across Texas offer a chance to learn while also earning 2.5 CE credits. Our next agent workshop will be held in Lubbock on August 24. The Workshops and Training section of our website will be updated with a registration link in the coming weeks.

NCCI updates

Texas’ workers’ comp industry has seen a number of changes over the last year and will continue to experience more. To help guide our agents through these updates, we created a special page on our website with news, updates, articles and more. Visit texasmutual.com/ncci to see our latest updates.

Agent News e-newsletter

Our monthly Agent News e-newsletter offers industry news, safety alerts to pass on to clients and information that makes doing business with Texas Mutual even easier. You can sign up to receive Agent News by clicking here.

Webinars

Many agents are aware of our monthly policyholder webinars, but they may not know that we also offer agent webinars. Texas Mutual agents can register for webinars through the email invitation sent in the weeks leading up to a new webinar offering, or watch webinar archives by visiting the Workshops and Training section of texasmutual.com. Current webinar archives include Basic Experience Modifier Training, a webinar covering last year’s NCCI changes, and more.

Agent’s Guide to Workers’ Comp

Our annual guide provides a complete overview of workers’ comp in general, and working with Texas Mutual in particular. It’s a great guide for those new to the industry, and an easy read for experienced agents who want a refresh.

Regulatory Roundup

Every Friday here on the Texas Mutual blog, Regulatory Roundup shares all the industry news you need to know in one convenient place. With updates from regulatory agencies, trending safety issues, Texas Mutual happenings and more, it’s your one-stop-shop for workers’ comp news. Take a look at our latest Regulatory Roundup and subscribe in the upper right corner of this page to receive an email each time we share new information on the blog.