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Industry Watch

No Reprieve from Medical Costs Amid Rising Price of Care

Payers must remain focused on preventing claims and mitigating severity.
By: | January 17, 2018 • 4 min read

Medical expenses rattled workers’ compensation payers when they reached 60 percent of claim costs, exceeding indemnity as the most expensive portion of addressing worker injuries.

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Now, rising medical costs are pushing that 60 percent squarely into the rearview mirror. They have reached 69.3 percent of a claim’s expense in Florida and are running 64 percent – 65 percent in other states.

Claim-severity drivers such as obesity and an aging-worker population will extend the trend.

“That is going to continue to gradually inch even higher in terms of the percent of payment going to medical expenses versus indemnity,” said David Dwortz, president of Helmsman Management Services. “With the increase in severity, medical is definitely going to continue to be a major concern, a huge focus for keeping control of payers’ overall costs.”

Meanwhile, nationwide medical inflation is expected to grow at 2.3 percent for 2018, faster than at any time since 2010. That rate of medical inflation, however, is not significant enough to sound alarm bells.

It is also not surprising because medical inflation had been at historically low levels going back to 2010, Dwortz said.

“I don’t think anyone expected that to continue into perpetuity,” Dwortz commented.

Although a percentage point higher than the average over the last few years, the 2.3 percent growth in expected 2018 medical pricing is not historically unusual, said Patrick Cote, an economist at NCCI Holdings Inc., the workers’ comp research and rating organization.

While the current rate of medical inflation is worth keeping an eye on, it is a “middle of the road” level of increase, he added.

David Dwortz, president, Helmsman Management Services

But the continued overall creeping up of medical expenses, including medical price increases, is a potent reminder that employers and other claims payers must remain constantly engaged in the battle to prevent claims and mitigate their severity when they do occur.

It also calls for understanding price increases — in contrast to addressing the utilization of different components of medical care — to judge whether various drivers of medical price movement realistically can be mitigated, said George Furlong, senior VP, managed care program outcomes and analytics at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

For example, many state fee schedules do not control hospital pricing. If that pricing spikes, there are limited measures for addressing it when employers already have proven cost-containment practices in place, such as medical provider networks.

Similarly, Average Wholesale Price, influenced by pharmaceutical manufacturers, drives drug pricing and can’t be controlled like the utilization of prescriptions.

“With the increase in severity, medical is definitely going to continue to be a major concern, a huge focus for keeping control of payers’ overall costs.” — David Dwortz, president, Helmsman Management Services

Understanding the influence of price changes will help payers better determine whether focusing on controlling utilization will or won’t be productive, Furlong explained.

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“I’ll give you a quick example,” Furlong said. “In California they had a significant increase in physical therapy services (pricing) over the last couple of years. It had a lot of people looking for utilization issues when they didn’t exist.”

NCCI’s expectation of medical inflation growth for 2018 is based on its monitoring of the Personal Health Care deflator from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Medical inflation expected to increase during 2018 will follow from the nation’s expanding economy and the accompanying overall inflation driving up wages in the labor-intensive healthcare industry, states a Medical Cost Trend report from PwC.

Advances in technology and pharmaceuticals will also contribute to nudging up the price of medical care.

Jeff Kuss, chief claims officer, AF Group

Increasing prices, however, are not all bad news, explained Jeff Kuss, chief claims officer at insurer AF Group.

“They come up with new processes or procedures that may be more expensive on the front end, but ultimately they are going to get the better outcome at the back end for the injured worker,” Kuss said. “Some of that is progress and how we improve the care and delivery system.”

The ultimate impact of 2018 medical inflation on employers’ total worker’s comp expenses will depend on factors driving utilization, such as their worker-population demographics and safety efforts.

Most claims cost increases, for instance, are falling on those involving older workers with little cost changes attributed to claims involving younger employees, Furlong said.

Insurance rates are down in most states due to continually declining frequency, added Frank Pennachio, a partner at Oceanus Partners. Despite medical inflation, some employers who have managed to reduce their claims frequency may actually pay less in total worker’s comp expense, Pennachio elaborated. &

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.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]