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Mitchell International, Inc., released its fourth quarter Industry Trends Report for 2020. In this report, industry experts from across Mitchell predict and analyze the key trends that will impact 2021, providing insights that can help guide planning for organizations across the industry.

In 2020, the workers’ compensation industry has faced no shortage of challenges – treatment gaps, delays in elective surgeries, the shift to work-from-home, an onslaught of emergency regulations and more. In 2021, the industries will continue to face pandemic-related challenges that will require adaptations and focus to address.

One of the major issues the workers’ compensation industry has faced during the pandemic is access to care. Across the country, hospitals, medical offices and other sites of service limited or delayed elective surgeries and treatments, leaving gaps in care for many workers’ compensation claims. These trends are expected to continue through the pandemic in line with state COVID-19 rules and restrictions.

The shifting workforce will be the biggest trend to watch in 2021. Much of the U.S. workforce has shifted to work from home, with many workers expected to stay remote even after the pandemic ends. For the workers’ compensation industry, this will pose a challenge when it comes to worker safety, as the risks are different in a home environment compared to an office.

They also anticipate that next year, claims organizations will lean into automating the end-to-end claims process more than ever, that telemedicine will undergo both innovation and additional regulatory and security scrutiny and that we will see increases in certain types of workers’ compensation claims like ergonomic injuries and growing COVID-19 illness claims.

For adjusters and other claim handlers, the biggest game changer will be having a clear understanding that telemedicine, telehealth, telerehab and others are acceptable forms of treatment.

Mitchell experts also caution that in 2021 we may see continuing concerns in the pharmacy system, including escalating drug costs and a growing opioid crisis that has led to an estimated 18% increase in overdoses in 2020, though mostly from synthetic drugs.

Fraud, which costs $30 billion each year, should also remain top of mind right now for carriers, since the changes caused by the pandemic have altered previous patterns, making fraud harder to detect.

The also expect in 2021 that Congress is going to do something to reconcile the difference between where the states are at and where the federal government is at when it comes to marijuana. The federal government might allow states to regulate marijuana similar to alcohol, allowing each state to decide the right policy.