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Rates and premiums for workers’ compensation insurance are continuing to climb across the US, driven by factors including the prolonged low interest rate environment and rising medical costs. Meanwhile, implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the potential expiration of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIPRA) are two other factors that could make a significant impact on the workers’ comp market as 2014 unfolds.

As the U.S. unemployment rate shows modest declines and wages are slowly increasing, it’s no surprise that workers’ compensation premiums are continuing to show growth. A quick look back at the past 8 years tells us that the workers’ compensation market suffered through a 27% decline in premium from 2006 to 2010 before rebounding with growth in the past 3 years, including a 10% increase in 2012 to more than $39 billion according to an annual study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

Wells Fargo took a look at what to expect through 2014 in the workers’ comp market in its 2014 Insurance Market Outlook, released at the end of January. In addition to concurring with the Marsh report regarding TRIPRA, the report forecasts continued rate increases for the first three quarters of this year, along with continued reduction in the combined loss ratio, resulting from higher prices seen over the past three years. The report includes several other predictions, such as continued movement away from guaranteed cost program structures into higher deductible program structures, either because they are a more appealing alternative or a necessity. One final prediction in the report says the continued use of predictive modeling analysis to improve risk selection, proper retention levels and pricing will result in more conservative underwriting by the insurers.

Health care reform hasn’t made a significant impact on the US workers’ comp market to date, but that isn’t expected to be the case for much longer. The effects could be both beneficial and detrimental. Ruth Estrich, chief strategy officer at Philadelphia-based MedRisk, a workers’ comp-focused managed care company, says the impact could come in a variety of forms. One way would be reduced severity in worker’s comp. If millions of people who were previously uninsured become insured, one would hope that these people will get healthier. For people that have chronic issues (such as asthma), having health insurance that allows them to manage their issues should impact how quickly they heal, become functional and get back in the workplace. Someone who is not getting care for their chronic issues will likely take longer to recover in a workers’ comp situation.

Estrich says another issue the industry is watching is access to primary care physicians (PCPs). “If you think about all of those folks who will start accessing health care through their PCP, we are headed toward a problem with access to primary care,” Estrich says. “People were already predicting that access to primary care will be a problem. It could be a perfect storm.” In worker’s comp, a lot of the treatment and first response in many cases comes via a person’s PCP. Estrich says it is conceivable that many PCPs, who are already in short supply, will elect to stop treating workers’ comp cases, which can be more challenging to deal with. This would obviously be a negative development for the workers’ comp market.

The third issue Estrich sees in the potential for a cost shift. People without health insurance have an incentive to ascribe their injury to a workplace event when it may well have happened away from the job, simply because they would be covered by workers’ comp and not covered if the injury occurs away from work. With more people being covered by health insurance, they would be less likely to claim an injury happened at work.