While it obviously presented challenges, 2020 is looking like it may not have been such a bad year for workers’ compensation insurers and insureds after all.
Insurers took in less premium but paid fewer claims. They managed to achieve one of the lowest combined ratios in history. An increasing number of workers were able to be treated via telemedicine, meaning they did not have to travel. Injured workers, including COVID-claimants, appear to have received their medical care without much delay. And the vast majority of COVID-19 claimants needed only limited treatment.
On the down side, 2020 may have seen a return of opioid over-prescribing.
Experts from the industry’s data and rating organization, the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), recently shared their preliminary analysis of 2020 claims data. In a virtual roundtable, COVID-19 and Workers Compensation, summarized by the Insurance Journal.
NCCI looked at results through the third quarter of 2020 and extended those through the end of the year. NCCI uses data from private carriers and state funds in 41 jurisdictions but its data does not include many public entities such as first responders or health care entities including hospitals and nursing homes that are largely self-insured.
Some highlights of the year include:
– – The pandemic has “put gas on a fire that was already burning,” that is, workers’ compensation loss costs have been on a downward trend for years and expense ratios have been climbing.
– – The percentage of COVID-19 claims among all workers’ compensation paid claims has varied greatly among states and occupations, as has the decrease in non-COVID claims, according to research from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI).
– – While at least 17 states have passed laws or issued orders that expanded access to workers’ compensation benefits for employees who contract COVID-19, many of those directives are creating new exposure for only a sliver of the workforce, new research by the WCRI shows.
– – Although the nation’s focus may have shifted to the coronavirus pandemic, the opioid crisis not only remains a challenge, but also may have worsened due to COVID-19, according to speakers at a forum sponsored by the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
– – Written premium for the full calendar year of 2020 is expected to be the lowest since 2012.
The NCCI figures are calendar year and do not reflect the full costs of treating COVID-19 or other health conditions with long-term effects.
Overall for 2020, NCCI projects an 8% decline in premium to $38.6 billion, the lowest since 2014. That is accompanied by a 7.6% decline in losses and a favorable 86% calendar year combined ratio.
Worker claims due to COVID-19 have ranged from no symptoms to critical care, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, fatalities in some cases.
The overall COVID-19 claims picture is by no means dire. The larger majority of the cases are small and have only required the injured worker to miss work and quarantine or recover at home.