In Depth: Workers' Compensation

Capturing the Best Data

Determining total cost of risk has value; getting your hands on the right data set is the challenge.
By: | October 12, 2017 • 7 min read

For a well-organized risk management department, collecting the array of expense data needed to calculate the total cost of risk for its workers’ compensation program should be fairly straightforward.

But aggregating all the desired data is often challenging for employers, particularly when it must be collected from various workers’ comp service providers who may use different formats for tracking the information.

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Expense information maintained within the risk management department might also be tabulated in different ways, depending on factors such as whether contracts call for paying flat fees or per-claim charges, further complicating matters.

“Some self-insureds and some insureds with large deductibles will have significantly different sources, or places, where the data might be kept in terms of what can be included in the total cost of risk number for workers’ comp,” said Bill Zachry, a longtime risk manager and senior fellow at the Sedgwick Institute.

“It’s one of the challenges in doing it well,” he added.

Other risk managers evaluating their total cost of risk, or TCOR, for workers’ comp, however, don’t find a need to seek data from many sources, depending on their goals and program structures.

Carolyn Snow, director of risk management at Humana Inc. and the 2014 Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc. president, relies on a TCOR analysis to help allocate workers’ comp expenses — insured through a captive — to company business units.

Information used to calculate her TCOR includes excess insurer premiums, third party administration claims-management expenses and the cost of time spent conducting claims reviews.

Bill Zachry, senior fellow, Sedgwick Institute

She obtains other TCOR input data from Humana’s business units and considers the cost of lost productivity when workers are absent due to workplace injuries. But that leaves little need to collect information from other sources.

“We don’t use a lot of outside information” to calculate TCOR, she said.

Regardless of the degree of the challenge in collecting data, a TCOR analysis is a powerful tool for a workers’ comp program and well worth the effort required to uncover it, veteran risk managers and other observers agree.

They encourage other risk and workers’ comp managers to gain a deeper understanding and better ability to manage the real cost drivers behind their workers’ comp spending by conducting a TCOR analysis — even when some expense information needed for a solid analysis must be based on estimations.

“I always felt that it was very valuable as a risk manager to understand what my TCOR was,” Zachry said.

Digging Deep

Many workers’ comp claims payers, however, focus only on learning their insurance and claims adjudication costs, forgoing the opportunity to examine how all the pieces of their program truly impact costs and claims outcomes, TCOR proponents argue.

“It doesn’t happen nearly as often as we would like it to,” Patrick Walsh, executive VP and chief claims officer at York Risk Services Group, responded when asked how often risk managers request York’s help to obtain information needed for a TCOR analysis.

“Full disclosure, [a TCOR analysis is] not an easy exercise to do right.” — Patrick Walsh, executive VP and chief claims officer, York Risk Services Group

But when risk managers dig beneath the surface of their workers’ comp program to really understand their total cost of risk, they can discern how to optimize their role and improve program elements, Walsh said. They can learn, for example, what practices really motivate employees to want to return to work as soon as possible following an injury.

“When you do get someone to the table and have the discussion about total cost of risk and really focus on outcomes and what processes will get you those outcomes, it can actually be a fun discussion,” Walsh said.

“You start talking about things that really matter and the roles an employer can play in the claims process.”

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TCOR is a key measurement for decreasing workers’ comp variable claims expenses, explained George Pallis, director of marketing and analytics for the national accounts division of Travelers.

“Some customers focus too much on the fixed cost component,” of their program, Pallis said.

But fixed costs, or insurance purchasing expenses, typically amount to 20 to 30 percent of a program’s overall expense with the remainder of overall costs variable.

“The real opportunity to improve the overall cost of risk is the variable loss component,” or claims expense, Pallis said.

“We try to get [customers] to focus on the variable loss component because that is where we can bring our claims handling expertise and risk control practices … and really impact that total cost of risk number.”

Focusing on reducing TCOR in that fashion is not only good for the customer, it also contributes to Travelers workers’ comp book of business, achieving a combined ratio that beats the average for its industry by 11 percent, Pallis said.

Accessing the Data

But Walsh said he knows also that uncovering an accurate TCOR may be challenging for employers, especially for those purchasing multiple workers’ comp services “unbundled” from a variety of vendors.

“Full disclosure, [a TCOR analysis is] not an easy exercise to do right,” Walsh said.

“It does require a lot of effort to pull the data in from the [disparate] pieces of the puzzle. Some of it is relatively easy. The claims data should be easy to get. Some of the service data, especially if it is bundled, will be easy to get.

“If it is unbundled, it might be a bit of a struggle to get it in a way that you can pull it all together easily.”

Pallis also noted that employers unbundling a variety of claims services might find a TCOR analysis more challenging.

“You have to go to different places, and it might be difficult to quantify total cost of risk,” he said.

Patrick Walsh, executive VP and chief claims officer, York Risk Services Group

In some cases, though, calculating a workers’ comp program’s TCOR may not be difficult when information such as loss data, actuarial reports and departmental budgets are readily available in an organized format, said Joe Picone, casualty claims practice leader at Willis Towers Watson.

“It’s difficult if your protocols for storage of costs and budget [data] are not well defined,” Picone added.

“A well-organized risk management department will have access to most of their costs.  If your organization isn’t capturing TCOR inputs on a regular basis in a centralized manner, it could be cumbersome.”

The fewer components included in a TCOR analysis, the easier the computation task may be.

But that also increases the likelihood that a less-than-optimal final analysis will encourage program changes that don’t improve costs or claims outcomes, observers said.

Productivity Losses

Potential TCOR components are significant expense considerations, yet are very difficult to precisely measure.

One tough item to calculate are the productivity losses employers suffer when injured workers miss work.

Despite the difficulty of attributing a precise number to productivity losses, experts say it is valuable to include it in a TCOR analysis, even if it’s an estimation.

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“That is where you are going to reach a point where you are willing to make some assumptions reasonably based on data you do have,” Walsh said. “But I think ignoring that is a mistake.”

Snow, the director of risk management at Humana, agrees. While she does not have precise measurements for productivity losses, she does consider the cost when thinking of her company’s TCOR for workers’ comp.

To overcome the challenges, Walsh suggests an honest evaluation of what matters to an employer, what they want to accomplish and make assumptions where necessary.

But document those assumptions so that they can be replaced with data as it becomes available, he said.

Also collaborate with both broker and TPA, as each may have a role in implementing improvements suggested by a TCOR analysis.

“The moment one of those parties [is not included] is the moment you are going to have a problem accomplishing your goal,” he said.

“Because if you decide after your analysis that the goal is to get one party to do something faster or better, it is still incumbent on the other parties to help them reach that.” &

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.

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The Profession

For This Pharmaceutical Risk Director, Managing Risk Means Being Part of the Mission to Save Lives

Meet Eric Dobkin, director, insurance and risk management, for Merck & Co. Inc.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of undergrad was as an actuarial trainee at Chubb.I was a math major in school, and I think the options for a math major coming out are either a teacher or an actuary, right? Anyway, I was really happy when the opportunity at Chubb presented itself. Fantastic company. I learned a lot there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?
After I went back to get my MBA, I decided I wanted to work in corporate finance. When I was interviewing, one of the opportunities was with Merck. I really liked their mission, and things worked out. Given my background, they thought a good starting job would be in Merck’s risk management group. I started there, rotated through other areas within Merck finance but ultimately came back to the Insurance & Risk Management group. I guess I’m just one of those people who enjoy this type of work.

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R&I: What is risk management doing right?
I think the community is doing a good job of promoting education, sharing ideas and advancing knowledge. Opportunities like this help make us all better business partners. We can take these ideas and translate them into actionable solutions to help our companies.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I think we have made good advancements in articulating the value proposition of investing in risk management, but much more can be done. Sometimes there is such a focus on delivering immediate value, such as cost savings, that risk management does not get appropriate attention (until something happens). We need to develop better tools that can reinforce that risk management is value-creating and good for operational efficiency, customers and shareholders.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
I’d actually say there hasn’t been as much change as I would have hoped. I think the industry speaks about innovation more often than it does it. To be fair, at Merck we do have key partners that are innovators, but some in the industry are less enthusiastic to consider new approaches. I think there is a real need to find new and relevant solutions for large, complex risks.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
Cyber risk. While it’s not emerging anymore, it’s evolving, dynamic and deserves the attention it gets. Merck was an early adopter of risk transfer solutions for cyber risk, and we continue to see insurance as an important component of the overall cyber risk management framework. From my perspective, this risk, more than any other, demands continuous forward-thinking to ensure we evolve solutions.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Sticking with the cyber theme, I’d say navigating through a cyber incident is right up there. In June 2017, Merck experienced a network cyber attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales. It was a very challenging environment. And managing the insurance claim that resulted has been extremely complex. But at the same time, I have learned a tremendous amount in terms of how to think about the risk, enterprise resiliency and how to manage through a cyber incident.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?
Have strong intellectual curiosity. Always be willing to listen and learn. Ask “why?” We deal with a lot of ambiguity in our business, and the more you seek to understand, the better you will be able to apply those learnings toward developing solutions that meet the evolving risk landscape and needs of the business.

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R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?
We’re continuing to look for ways to apply technology. For example, being able to extract and leverage data that resides in our systems to evaluate risk, drive efficiencies and make things like property-value reporting easier. We’re also looking to utilize data visualization tools to help gain insights into our risks.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?
I think, at this time, I would like to continue to learn and grow in the type of work I do and broaden my scope of responsibilities. There are many opportunities to deliver value. I want to continue to focus on becoming a stronger business partner and help enable growth.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
I’d say right now Star Wars is top on my list. It has been magical re-watching and re-living the series I watched as a kid through the eyes of my children.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in? When I was about 15, I went to a New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I wore my Rangers jersey. I would not do that again.

Eric Dobkin, director, insurance & risk management, Merck & Co. Inc

R&I: What is it about this work you find most fulfilling or rewarding?
I am passionate about Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives. “Inventing for Life” is Merck’s tagline. It’s funny, but most people don’t associate “inventing” with medicine. But Merck has been inventing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases for a long time. It’s amazing to think the products we make can help people fight terrible diseases like cancer. Whatever little bit I can do to help advance that mission is very fulfilling and rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
Ha! My kids think I make medicine. I guess they think that because I work for Merck. I suppose if even in a small way I can contribute to Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives, I am good with that. &




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