Menu Close

Author: WorkCompAcademy

NCCI Says Work Comp Industry Recovering

The workers’ compensation market is seeing encouraging signs. Premiums grew for the second consecutive year, the combined ratio declined and claim frequency continued to improve at a pace slightly greater than its long-term historic rate of decline. According to the summary in the Insurance Journal, In 2012, the workers’ comp calendar combined ratio dropped six points from 2011, coming it at 109. The drop in combined ratio marks the first decrease since 2006, according to the State of the Line workers ‘compensation market analysis published by NCCI.|”By many measures, the industry condition is indeed improving,” said NCCI President and CEO Steve Klingel. “While we are pleased to see that the positives are beginning to outweigh the negatives, there remains great opportunity for improvement.”

Long-term challenges still linger over the future of workers’ comp, says Klingel. External forces such as the economy, healthcare reform, and new legislation could still negatively affect the market. “But for now, we view the overall industry condition as encouraging,” he says.

Net written premium (including state funds) also improved, increasing to $39.63 billion in 2012. The NCCI reports this is a 9 percent increase from 2011. Net written premiums increased 8 percent in 2011. The premium increases follow a cumulative 27 percent decline in premium from 2006-2010.

The report also revealed that lost-time claim frequency improved significantly in 2012 – down 5 percent on average in NCCI states. The 5 percent decline is slightly larger than NCCI’s long-term annual estimate of a of 2 to 4 percent decline per year. Previous NCCI research indicated that distortions in the calendar year premium data resulting from the recession and subsequent recovery affected our measure of claim frequency for 2010 and 2011. Current research indicates that those distortions are no longer significant for 2012.

Despite the improving conditions, the workers’ compensation line continues to deal with a variety of significant challenges, says NCCI Chief Actuary Dennis Mealy. “These include poor underwriting results, low investment yields, and continued uncertainty regarding the impact of the implementation of the federal healthcare reform bill,” he said.

Even so, the fact that the industry is seeing a return to a long-term pattern of declines in frequency and premiums are on the rise suggests that the underwriting performance of the industry, while still not good, is not as bad as it has been over the last two to three years, says NCCI’s Chief Economist Harry Shuford. “For the last three years the operating gain, which basically measures the overall profitability in workers’ compensation, has basically been zero for three years in a row,” Shuford said. “Investment income has been just sufficient enough to cover underwriting losses and there was nothing left over. This year there is some positive return due primarily from the improvement in underwriting results.” Like Mealy, Shuford told Insurance Journal that he sees investment yields as a concern for the future health of the workers’ comp market.

Federal Medicare Secondary Payer Law (MSP) Does Not Preempt State Comp Law

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth District (Texas) ruled that a claim for reimbursement of the costs for treatment for the effects of an industrial injury paid by Medicare, cannot circumvent the requirements of state workers’ compensation law. In other words, federal law does not preempt state law procedural requirements. Here is what happened in the case of Guadalupe Caldera vs The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania.

Caldera injured his back at work in 1995. Workers’ compensation carrier Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania (“ICSP”) initially paid Caldera benefits pursuant to Texas state law. Still suffering from the injury, Caldera applied for and obtained Medicare benefits in 1998.

He then had two back surgeries: one in 2005 and another in 2006. Medicare paid for both, with costs totaling $42,637.41. Although Caldera did not seek preauthorization for either surgery from ICSP (a prerequisite for payment under Texas workers’ compensation law), he filed a claim with ICSP for these expenses, arguing that ICSP – not Medicare – was responsible for payment. An “Agreed Judgment” between ICSP and Caldera established that Caldera’s 1995 injury was the producing cause of the conditions that gave rise to his surgeries, but it did not liquidate any damages or require any payment.

Caldera filed a Medicare Secondary Payer Statute (MSP) reimbursement claim against ICSP in the state court action, seeking double-damages. At the time Caldera suffered no out-of-pocket loss for these costs. Medicare had taken no steps to recover these funds from ICSP or Caldera. His motivation – MSP contains a private right of action to incentivize citizens to aid the government in recovering funds erroneously paid by Medicare. (See 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(3)(A)). A Medicare beneficiary may recover from his workers’ compensation carrier twice the amount that Medicare paid on his behalf if, among other things, the carrier qualifies as a “primary plan” – that is, if it “can reasonably be expected” to cover the expense “under a workmen’s compensation law or plan.” Id. § 1395y(b)(2)(A). To succeed, then, Caldera had to state a plausible claim that ICSP “can reasonably be expected” to pay for his surgeries under Texas workers’ compensation law.

ICSP answered that Caldera could not recover under the MSP because – regardless of the extent-of-injury issue – ICSP had no obligation to pay for surgeries that were not preauthorized in accordance with Texas workers’ compensation law. Caldera filed and lost a declaratory judgment action to determine whether the MSP preempts ICSP’s state-law defense. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth District (Texas) affirmed the dismissal in favor of ICSP.

The Court of Appeals noted that “Medicare serves as a back-up insurance plan to cover that which is not paid for by a primary insurance plan.” But, Caldera admits that he failed to obtain preauthorization for his surgeries, a state-law prerequisite for the receipt of workers’ compensation benefits from ICSP. Nevertheless, Caldera argues that ICSP qualifies as a “primary plan” that “can reasonably be expected” to pay because the MSP preempts the Texas preauthorization requirement. Caldera broadly argues that the MSP preempts any state laws that “impede the intent of recouping monies from primary payers” like ICSP.

The Court of Appeals agreed that “Congress explicitly prohibited workers’ compensation and other insurers from subordinating their payment obligations to those of Medicare.”. However, the court went on to state “[t]he MSP and its implementing regulations do not, however, extend so far as to eviscerate all state-law limitations on payment, as Caldera suggests. ….Indeed,numerous MSP regulations (indeed, an entire subchapter) presuppose the application of state workers’ compensation laws. …. In sum, we conclude that Congress intended the MSP to complement, not supplant, state workers’ compensation rules. This includes the preauthorization requirement that Caldera failed to meet before he filed suit.” The Court of Appeals concluded that Texas has gone to great lengths to craft a statutory structure that “carefully constructs rights, remedies, and procedures” to provide adequate coverage for injured workers…..That structure “contains detailed procedures and penalties for failures of the various interested parties to comply with statutory and regulatory requirements.” Id. at 440. “We will not upset this well-oiled machine absent a clear directive from Congress.”

WCAB Panel Allows Employer to Attend Applicant Deposition

Irene Yera claims to have incurred industrial injury to her neck, upper extremities, chest, nervous system and other body parts while employed as sales assistant by J.C. Penny.

During the course of investigating the claim, the employer scheduled Yera’s deposition. Yera appeared at the noticed time and location but refused to go forward in the presence of defendant’s store manager, who was designated as the employer’s representative. Defendant then petitioned to compel the deposition to proceed in the store manager’s presence, but the WCJ denied the petition. The defendant petitioned for removal to obtain an order to compel from the WCAB.

In his Report, the WCJ explained that he denied defendant’s motion because he was informed by applicant’s representative at that time that the presence of the store manager “would intimidate applicant.” However, the WCJ further writes that defendant is correct that applicant’s counsel did not seek a protective order prior to the deposition and that no specifics were provided at the conference “regarding applicant’s perception of being intimidated by the manager.” In the absence of such specifics, the WCJ agrees with defendant that it has the right to have the manager present during applicant’s deposition.

The WCAB panel granted the Petition for Removal and rescinded the decision denying defendant’s petition to compel in the case of Irene Yera v J.C. Penny.

The panel noted that there was no evidence from applicant identifying any right to privacy that would or could be affected if the store manager is present during the deposition.To the contrary, the only reason given by applicant’s representative to the WCJ for not proceeding at the deposition was that applicant would feel intimidated by the store manager’s presence. Such a summary assertion of subjective feelings is not sufficient reason to exclude the store manager from the deposition, particularly in light of the fact that applicant is represented by counsel and has remedies available to address any improper behavior that may occur at the deposition.

DWC Posts Proposed Changes to MPN Regulations

As part of its ongoing efforts to implement Senate Bill 863, the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) has posted proposed changes to the existing Medical Provider Network (MPN) regulations to the online forum where members of the public may review and comment on the proposals. The reform provisions of SB 863 substantially modified the MPN requirements. The modifications include:

  • Expanding the types of entities who may qualify to have an MPN.
  • Establishing an MPN approval period of four years.
  • Allowing any person to submit a complaint against an MPN.
  • Providing a petition process to either revoke or suspend an MPN.
  • Authorizing DWC to conduct reviews of MPN s and assess administrative penalties for violations of statutory and regulatory requirements.

The proposed amendments to the MPN regulations modify regulatory definitions, which include a definition of an entity that provides physician network services. The regulations also detail the changes to MPN operating requirements, which include physician acknowledgments, Internet Web site postings of providers, medical access assistants, quality of care, geocoding and MPN disclosure requirements to medical providers. In addition, the regulations set the requirements for MPN approval for a period of four years and the procedural timelines for MPN re-approval.

Regarding compliance and enforcement, the proposed regulations set forth the process for filing a written complaint against an MPN, and the manner to petition DWC for the suspension or revocation of MPN status. Finally, the regulations detail more enforcement actions, establishing additional grounds for the probation, suspension, or revocation of an MPN, and the procedure by which MPNs are reviewed by the Division and assessed administrative penalties.

The proposed changes to the MPN regulations start with section 9767.1 of title 8 of the California Code of Regulations. The forum can be found online on the D WC website. Comments will be accepted on the forum until 5 p.m. on May 23 . Please feel free to participate in this important process.

Brookdale Inn Owner Pleads No Contest in Fraud Case

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that the owner of the Brookdale Inn and Spa pleaded no contest to felony insurance fraud and two misdemeanors related to unpermitted construction and a lack of worker’s compensation insurance. Sanjiv Kakkar, 51, faces less than a year of jail time, a $10,000 fine and restitution to an insurance company when he is sentenced in October. Judge Timothy Volkmann said in court that the sentence might be served through work release or another alternative. Prosecutor Kelly Walker said outside court that the pleas were “appropriate, given the circumstances.”

In 2011, inspectors found disturbed asbestos during a construction project at the Inn. Authorities told Kakkar not to allow anyone in the dining hall. Later that day, Kakkar held a Valentine’s Day luncheon with about 150 senior citizens, prosecutors said. None of the seniors were sickened. Kakkar pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor health and safety code violation for unlawfully operating the dining facility.

Kakkar and his wife, 49-year-old Neelam Kakkar, bought the Brookdale Lodge at 11570 Highway 9 in the summer of 2007 and renamed it. Built in the 1890s, it had hosted Marilyn Monroe and President Herbert Hoover in its heyday. It had 46 hotel rooms, 45 apartments, 30 storage units and a large restaurant and bar.

In 2008, a worker spoke with Sanjiv Kakkar about filing a worker’s compensation claim. But prosecutors said Kakkar dissuaded him from filing the claim. He pleaded no contest to felony insurance fraud related to dissuading the employee. Sanjiv Kakkar also pleaded no contest to felony insurance premium fraud because he paid some employees in cash to reduce the payroll amount he reported to insurers. Sanjiv Kakkar also failed to maintain worker’s compensation insurance, a misdemeanor to which he also pleaded no contest. Neelam Kakkar also had faced charges because she signed her name on some payroll documents, but her charges were dismissed in the plea agreement.

A 2010 civil suit brought by six former employees alleged that Kakkar bounced paychecks, inflicted emotional distress and did not provide rest and meal breaks, according to the civil filing. That case is due back in court July 25 potentially to set a trial date.

Also in 2010, a judge ordered Kakkar to pay $17,000 to the state Department of Fish and Game and other agencies after chemicals used to unclog a kitchen pipe killed about 50 endangered steelhead trout.

In 2009, a fire destroyed 20 apartments and displaced 65 people. County officials red-tagged some buildings on the property after the fire, and some remain closed. The Inn has not reopened since the properties were red-tagged.

Court of Appeal Rejects Peace Officer Presumption of Cardiac Injury

The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of a peace officers presumed industrial disability retirement claim notwithstanding the accepted workers’ compensation claim. Here is what happened in the unpublished opinion of Henry Kirk v Retirement Board of of the City and County of San Francisco

Henry Kirk was a police officer for the San Francisco Police Department from 1975 until his retirement in June 2008 due to his heart-related physical impairment. His heart trouble appears to have surfaced in the 1980s, when he began to notice rapid heart beating and other symptoms, first, when exercising in 1983, and, next, when he passed out while driving a police vehicle in pursuit of a suspect in 1983 or 1984.

He was diagnosed with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) in 1990, high blood pressure in 1994, hypertensive cardiovascular disease and possible cardiomyopathy in 1997. In 1998 he was evaluated for his worker’s compensation claim. The evaluator determined that since the cardiomyopathy developed during the years he was a police officer, he qualified for workers’ compensation benefits under the “California Presumption Statute.” His treating physician however continued to express doubts about the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy.

On July 28, 2007, Kirk collapsed and lost consciousness while dancing at a private event, suffering a cardiac arrest. After initially receiving emergency medical care that included emergency catheterization, hypothermia treatment and life support, kirk received an implantable cardiac defibrillator. Then, following nearly six months of recuperation, appellant returned to police duty on January 19, 2008.

On January 17, 2008, Kirk was examined by Dr. Robert Blau in connection with his July 2007 workers’ compensation claim. Dr. Blau did not address the link (if any) between Kirk’s heart condition and his police service except to state “[he] has already received acknowledgement of his hypertension and cardiovascular disease being industrial.”

On March 18, 2008, Kirk suffered another cardiac arrest while driving home from work and effectively retired on June 28, 2008. Just before his retirement, on June 10, 2008, Kirk applied for an industrial disability retirement, identifying a “cardiac arrest” in July 2007 as his disabling condition. Dr. Thomas Allems found Kirk unfit to serve as a law enforcement officer in any capacity and thus “appropriately medically retired on a non-service connected basis.” With respect to the underlying cause of his heart trouble, Dr. Allems found it unrelated to his service as a police officer: He said that “[Kirks’s] dilated cardiomyopathy is likely idiopathic in nature; he may have a genetic predisposition. As a result of his cardiomyopathy he has had symptomatic supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias, dating back to the 1980s, with eventual ventricular arrhythmic arrests on two occasions in July 2007 and March 2008. This sequence of events reflects the natural history of his underlying cardiomyopathy.” After acknowledging that his heart disease had been accepted for workers’ compensation as industrial, Dr. Allems nontheless concluded that “With reasonable medical probability, his cardiomyopathy . . . was unrelated to any factors of his employment as a San Francisco police officer. His heart pathology would have occurred at the same time (becoming symptomatic shortly after his employment began) and progressed at the same rate and requested the same degree of medical treatment absent his being employed as a peace officer.”

His industrial disability retirement was denied after an arbitrator adopted the conclusion of Dr. Allems. The City of San Franciso adopted the arbitrators award and Kirk appealed.

The Court of Appeal in the unpublished opinion of Henry Kirk v Retirement Board of of the City and County of San Francisco affirmed the denial of his disability retirement claim. The task on appeal was to determine whether the trial court’s judgment is supported by substantial evidence. Contrary evidence developed in his workers’ compensation claim does not require reversal, particularly in light of the great deference accorded lower court findings in writ. proceedings. The Court of Appeal concluded that Dr. Allems did more than simply point out the lack of evidence that the applicant’s condition was industrial. Dr. Allems provided factually-supported medical opinions demonstrating the non-industrial nature and non-industrial progression of appellant’s condition, thereby successfully rebutting the applicable presumption

Backlash Begins Over DSM-V

The new Fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-V, will be published this month. Evaluations under California Workers’ Compensation law must be performed in accordance with the latest edition of this Manual. And according to a story published in the Guardian, pushback from the mental health community over this new edition has already begun.

In a groundbreaking move that has already prompted a fierce backlash from psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society’s division of clinical psychology (DCP) issued a statement declaring that, given the lack of evidence, it is time for a “paradigm shift” in how the issues of mental health are understood. The statement effectively casts doubt on psychiatry’s predominantly biomedical model of mental distress – the idea that people are suffering from illnesses that are treatable by doctors using drugs. The DCP said its decision to speak out “reflects fundamental concerns about the development, personal impact and core assumptions of the (diagnosis) systems”, used by psychiatry.

Dr Lucy Johnstone, a consultant clinical psychologist who helped draw up the DCP’s statement, said it was unhelpful to see mental health issues as illnesses with biological causes. “On the contrary, there is now overwhelming evidence that people break down as a result of a complex mix of social and psychological circumstances – bereavement and loss, poverty and discrimination, trauma and abuse,” Johnstone said.

The provocative statement by the DCP has been timed to come out shortly before the release of DSM-5, the fifth edition of the American Psychiatry Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The manual has been attacked for expanding the range of mental health issues that are classified as disorders. For example, the fifth edition of the book, the first for two decades, will classify manifestations of grief, temper tantrums and worrying about physical ill-health as the mental illnesses of major depressive disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and somatic symptom disorder, respectively. Some of the manual’s omissions are just as controversial as the manual’s inclusions. The term “Asperger’s disorder” will not appear in the new manual, and instead its symptoms will come under the newly added “autism spectrum disorder”.

The DSM is used in a number of countries to varying degrees. Britain uses an alternative manual, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) published by the World Health Organization, but the DSM is still hugely influential – and controversial.

But Professor Sir Simon Wessely, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and chair of psychological medicine at King’s College London, said it was wrong to suggest psychiatry was focused only on the biological causes of mental distress. And in an accompanying Observer article he defends the need to create classification systems for mental disorder. “A classification system is like a map,” Wessely explains. “And just as any map is only provisional, ready to be changed as the landscape changes, so does classification.”

Anti-Pro Athlete Bill Amended With Controversial 80-8 Rule

AB 1309 was authored by Insurance Committee Chairman Perea to address abuse of California’s ultra-lenient workman’s comp system. As is, the system lends itself to abuse by allowing former professional athletes to file claims in CA even if their contacts with the state are minimal. During the insurance committee hearing, Assemblywoman Torres noted that an insurance company’s statistics showed that claims paid out to approximately 2% of claimants involved former athletes whose only contact with California was their agents. They had never played for a California team, played a game in California, or even lived in California. But because of the system’s set up, they were somehow able to file a successful claim.

So to close the “loopholes” and prohibit athletes from “taking advantage” of the system, AB 1309 was introduced. AB 1309 will effectively exclude professional athletes from filing workman’s comp claims in the state of California. If passed, it will retroactively wipe out pending claims as well, some that have been in the pipeline for 4-5 years. There are approximately 1,000 pending workman’s comp claims in the state that would be precluded if the bill passes.

The original version of the bill introduced in February would preclude a claim if the athlete played on another pro-team domiciled in another state, unless he played more than 90 days in California within the last 365 days of employment. Critics argued that players like LaDainian Tomlinson, Tim Brown or the late Junior Seau would all be precluded from filing a claim in California because they played on out-of-state teams even though they spent a majority of their career on a California team.

Assemblyman Perea attempted to address these concerns by amending the bill in April to include what is being called the 80-8 rule. The amendment would allow players who played 80% of their career and 8 years on a California team to file a workman’s comp claim even if the last year of the employment was with an out of state employer. The bill language reads “This paragraph shall apply to all occupational disease and cumulative injury claims filed against an employer of professional athletes if the employer is subject to this division, unless the professional athlete was employed for eight or more consecutive years by the same California-based employer pursuant to a contract of hire entered into in California, and 80 percent or more of the professional athlete’s employment as a professional athlete occurred while employed by that California-based employer against whom the claim is filed.

Critics of the amendment point out that the average NFL career is 3.5 years – there are probably a handful of players who will actually play 8 years on one team, let alone 8 years total in the NFL. The duration of most NFL contracts are 1-4 years. These contracts are not guaranteed, and players often move from team to team after being cut or their contracts expire. Thus they say that the 80-8 rule will not help many players who started their career with a California team and moved elsewhere for the remaining years of their limited career.

Liberty Mutual Reports 31% Income Decline

Liberty Mutual reports first-quarter net income fell 31 percent, impacted by the devaluation of Venezuela’s currency and premium declines primarily in Workers’ Compensation.The Boston-based company reports a $141 million drop in net income to $318 million. The combined ratio improved 2.6 points to 98.3 thanks to overall premium increases and light catastrophe losses.

Speaking during a conference call CEO David H. Long notes the company is shedding poorly-performing accounts on rate increases while keeping retentions in the mid-80s and growing new business. He says premium growth came in the personal and global specialty lines where rates rose more than 6 percent.
The devaluation of the Venezuela bolivar in February resulted in $223 million in realized losses, he says. However, he expects much of that loss to reverse itself over the year with the addition of premium.

On Workers’ Comp, net written premium decreased $238 million resulting from a decline in new business and a reduction of 29 percent in exposures resulting from disciplined underwriting. Rate increases of 10 percent partially offset the drop.

Long says the increases were significantly higher in the middle market. Commercial insurance Property and Casualty premium declined 11.6 percent in the quarter because of workers’ comp, and excluding rate increases, exposures declined 18 percent. With the actions the company has taken, he says commercial is becoming more profitable each month. The first-quarter combined ratio for commercial improved 8 points over last year to 101.6.

Long says prices escalated across all lines of business, led by workers’ comp and property, amounting to more than 9.3 points of rate increase compared to 6.6 points of increase during 2012’s first quarter. “We think we are on the right track and we will stick with our plan,” says Long. “We will continue to grow where we can do so profitability and walk-away from underpriced risk.”

Study Says Antibiotics Could Cure 40% of Chronic Back Pain

Surgeons in the UK and elsewhere are reviewing how they treat patients with chronic back pain after scientists discovered that many of the worst cases were due to bacterial infections. The finding means that some patients with unrelenting lower back pain mayl no longer face major operations but can instead be cured with courses of antibiotics. One of the UK’s most eminent spinal surgeons said the discovery was the greatest he had witnessed in his professional life, and that its impact on medicine was worthy of a Nobel prize. “This is vast. We are talking about probably half of all spinal surgery for back pain being replaced by taking antibiotics,” said Peter Hamlyn, a consultant neurological and spinal surgeon at University College London hospital.

Specialists who deal with back pain have long known that infections are sometimes to blame, but these cases were thought to be exceptional. That thinking has been overturned by scientists at the University of Southern Denmark who found that 20% to 40% of chronic lower back pain was caused by bacterial infections.

“This will not help people with normal back pain, those with acute, or sub-acute pain – only those with chronic lower back pain,” Dr Hanne Albert, of the Danish research team, told the Guardian. “These are people who live a life on the edge because they are so handicapped with pain. We are returning them to a form of normality they would never have expected.”

The Danish team describe their work in two papers published in the European Spine Journal. In the first report, they explain how bacterial infections inside slipped discs can cause painful inflammation and tiny fractures in the surrounding vertebrae. Working with doctors in Birmingham, the Danish team examined tissue removed from patients for signs of infection. Nearly half tested positive, and of these, more than 80% carried bugs called Propionibacterium acnes. The microbes are better known for causing acne. They lurk around hair roots and in the crevices in our teeth, but can get into the bloodstream during tooth brushing. Normally they cause no harm, but the situation may change when a person suffers a slipped disc. To heal the damage, the body grows small blood vessels into the disc. Rather than helping, though, they ferry bacteria inside, where they grow and cause serious inflammation and damage to neighboring vertebrae that shows up on an MRI scan.

In the second paper, the scientists proved they could cure chronic back pain with a 100-day course of antibiotics. In a randomized trial, the drugs reduced pain in 80% of patients who had suffered for more than six months and had signs of damaged vertebra under MRI scans.

Albert stressed that antibiotics would not work for all back pain. Over-use of the drugs could lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are already a major problem in hospitals. But she also warned that many patients will be having ineffective surgery instead of antibiotics that could alleviate their pain.”We have to spread the word to the public, and to educate the clinicians, so the right people get the right treatment, and in five years’ time are not having unnecessary surgery,” she said.

Hamlyn said future research should aim to increase the number of patients that respond to antibiotics, and speed up the time it takes them to feel an improvement, perhaps by using more targeted drugs.