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Column: Workers' Comp

Ahead of the Curve

By: | December 14, 2017 • 3 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

Proactive risk managers can directly impact the direction of the workers’ comp industry.

It often takes a few passionate risk managers to force substantial, yet limited, shifts in workers’ compensation.

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Fair example: More than a decade ago, a few focused risk managers launched strategies for curbing doctors’ opioid prescribing practices for injured workers.

They laid the groundwork for approaches widely applied in workers’ comp today, years before opioids would be labeled a national emergency or become a common household term.

These risk managers were early to spot the problem, and a few of them even shared their strategies publicly, discussing their approaches at risk management conferences.

You can imagine their corporate public relations departments frowned on publicly associating their company brands with worker addictions — had their PR departments known about these conference presentations, of course.

But that is how positive shifts occur in otherwise convoluted state workers’ comp systems resistant to change. Sophisticated employers encounter a problem, push their vendors to help find solutions and share their results.

Workers’ comp now leads the rest of the nation in addressing the opioid-abuse epidemic.

I don’t expect to see any radical structural changes occurring within state workers’ comp systems in the next few years. Positive shifts will occur, however, in smaller ways that can be substantial — with risk managers often at the forefront.

That happened during the earlier 2000s, when California risk managers joined labor representatives to kick insurers and workers’ comp vendors out of the room in order to negotiate for improvements that increased worker benefits while easing employer burdens.

Fixing workers’ comp won’t come from taking the input of people whose self-interest is well served under the current structure.

It wasn’t a radical reset of California’s worker’s comp system; but the changes they brought were substantial enough to reverse difficult insurance-purchasing market conditions.

Two years ago, ProPublica launched its journalistic investigation spotlighting workers’ comp system shortcomings that left disabled workers without care.

ProPublica’s stories caused some introspection within workers’ comp, followed by highly touted conversations on improving workers’ comp across America.

But I don’t see major changes emerging from that.

Fixing workers’ comp won’t come from taking the input of people whose self-interest is well served under the current structure. Significant change is more likely to come when employers take the lead by either working with labor or by bringing about change that isn’t one sided and that genuinely improves the lives of injured workers.

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This might be what is happening with some large employers who are adopting serious worker advocacy strategies. The advocacy approach limits challenges on claims that are only marginally questionable.

The worker advocacy approach redirects resources formerly spent on questioning claims to programs that make sure workers are well cared for.

This strategy is being practiced by customer-service focused employers such as Disney and Delta Air Lines.

Just as the battle to stem opioid use began with a few risk managers, this positive development might also find a wider practice.

It’s not a given yet, but it is more likely than imaginary white knights in the form of workers’ comp special interest groups riding in to “save” the day. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]