2017 NWCDC

Looking Back: Workers’ Compensation Changes in 2017

Injured workers and their employers search out ways to combat chronic pain, but they’re not always in agreement on the best solutions.
By: | December 6, 2017 • 3 min read

Prescription drugs and other methods of chronic pain relief have been at the center of workers’ comp conversations for years, whether it’s something as controversial as opioids and marijuana or it’s deciding where injured workers can fill their prescriptions.

Over the past year, these hot topics have led to decisions that could impact the workers’ comp industry moving forward.

The Marijuana Debate Continues

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Legislation on this taboo drug is under rapid change, leaving many wondering where that leaves workers’ comp.

In Maine this year, the state legislative committee was urged to reconsider regulatory framework surrounding recreational marijuana.

Under the law, businesses wouldn’t be able to reject applicants for testing positive for marijuana because the applicant might use the drug for medicinal purposes. Employers wouldn’t be able to fire an employee for a positive drug test after an incident of injury. Instead, the employer would be tasked with proving the employee was impaired on the job.

In Massachusetts, for example, a woman was offered a position on the condition she passed a mandatory drug test, but she was using medical marijuana for Crohn’s disease. The employer said it wouldn’t be a problem but fired her regardless.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Legislation on this taboo drug is under rapid change, leaving many wondering where that leaves workers’ comp.

In July, the court ruled that under Massachusetts law her use of medical marijuana was “as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.”

The employer had to prove she was impaired on the job to justify letting her go.

Additionally, workers’ comp carriers and insurance organizations have made a move toward accepting medical marijuana practices.

Liberty Mutual implemented a formalized claims-review process to evaluate workers’ comp requests for medical marijuana this year. Safety National teamed up with third-party vendors to distribute manufactured medical marijuana patches and gels.

Combatting the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency in October, and to combat this growing crisis, some insurers and pharmacies are limiting coverage of opiate-based prescriptions.

Cigna announced it will not cover OxyContin prescriptions — the most common cause of opioid-related overdose and death — for customers on employer-based health plans. CVS limited opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply.

The Workers’ Compensation Institute found that overuse and misuse of opioids resulted in mixed results depending on the state, showing that while some states are cutting the number of opioids prescribed to injured workers, other states are still prescribing more.

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found a link between legalized medical marijuana and opioid-related deaths. States that legalized medical marijuana saw a 25 percent decrease in deaths from opioid overdoses.

Workers’ Choice in Pharmacy

At the end of the day, however, injured workers still need to fill their pain relief prescriptions. This year, a handful of states faced the question: Should employees get a choice in pharmacy?

In Kentucky, the law permits workers to choose their own medical provider, however one company faced a hiccup when their injured workers turned to Injured Workers Pharmacy (IWP), a mail-order business that sells medications on a lien basis. When the insurer refused to pay, the employees turned to the law.

The court ruled in favor of the workers, allowing them to choose their own pharmacy with impunity.

Yet, in Louisiana, a worker who turned to IWP to fill his prescriptions, was denied. The judge ruled in favor of the employer, stating that under state law, pharmacy choice in a workers’ comp case belongs to the employer.

And these states are not the only ones facing this growing issue. Workers and pharmacies continue to bring cases against employers in the hopes of bypassing the insurer’s pharmacy of choice. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

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

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

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

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.

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R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

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

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

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

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.

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R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

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

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

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

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

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

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &




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