2018 NWCDC Preview

2018 NWCDC: The Can’t Miss Sessions, Speakers and More from This Year’s Workers’ Comp Conference

The claims advocacy model is just one of many important topics on the agenda for 2018 NWCDC this December at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
By: | October 15, 2018 • 5 min read

In the years since “advocacy claims management” gained traction among employers willing to break with tradition, it has been practiced, studied and surveyed enough for the jury to return a verdict: It produces better outcomes and is an effective strategy to control workers’ compensation litigation.


“In the past, we talked about advocacy claims management’s potential to address the needs of injured workers, so they wouldn’t go to an attorney,” said Roberto Ceniceros, senior editor for Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Conference & Expo (NWCDC), which will be held Dec. 5-7 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

“Now practitioners can talk about how to practice it effectively.”

Unlike the traditional adversarial claims model — designed to rein in the few bad actors, but imposed indiscriminately on the majority of workers who simply want to get well and return to work — the advocacy claims model takes a collaborative approach to workers’ compensation, making litigation unwanted and unnecessary for the majority.

“We’re seeing a paradigm shift from ‘claims management’ to ‘injured worker assistance,’ ” said Jill Dulich, claims and operations manager, California Self-Insurers’ Security Fund and NWCDC board member.

Despite its demonstrable benefits, both financial and in employee morale, “many companies and claims people think the advocacy model is too hard for them to adopt. It’s not,” Dulich said, as a panel of speakers will explain in the conference session “How Advocacy Programs Produce Optimal Outcomes.”

In keeping with the conference’s goal of providing actionable and sustainable information to attendees, the session panel will also offer advice on program implementation and measurement, Dulich said.

Practical Take-Home Lessons Coming From 2018 NWCDC

All conference presenters will offer practical, real-life experience and case studies that attendees can take back to their companies, Ceniceros said.

Sessions are pitched to a broad range of experience. “They run the gamut from Workers’ Comp 101 to fairly advanced,” Dulich said, and give attendees insight into “a very broad-based capsule of national information.”

Jill Dulich, claims and operations manager, California Self-Insurers’ Security Fund

Dulich uses the conference to track trends in jurisdictions other than her own in California. “It prepares me for changes that might be coming down the road in my own jurisdiction. I get a heads up.”

A mega-session, “Steal These Ideas! Teddy-Award Winning Employers Showcase Their Successful Strategies,” beams the spotlight on four award-winning workers’ compensation programs from organizations in retail, health care, the public sector and education.

“These case studies apply across sectors and industries,” said Ceniceros. “Attendees learn from the best.”

Departing from previous years’ tradition of a keynote speaker from within the industry, seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller, now an advocate for women and children’s health, will describe how the gold-medal mindset overcomes challenges and inspires success.

The survivor of numerous injuries that threatened to derail her gymnastics career, her keynote address will describe resilience and the gold-medal mindset — which may apply to efforts the workers’ compensation industry makes on behalf of injured workers.

With tracks devoted to claims management, disability management, medical management, legal/regulatory issues, program management and technology, “there’s something useful for all workers’ comp professionals,” said Ceniceros.

Dulich “likes to pick up a lot of tidbits about what other people are doing that I can do in my own program.” For example, she attended a pharmacy session at the 2017 conference that introduced her to a key metric to measure success. “I went home, looked at my program and used the metric to measure my service provider’s performance.”

In total, the conference features 38 breakout sessions, two “mega sessions” and one general session.  But opportunities to learn aren’t confined to educational sessions, Dulich added. It’s also an opportunity for attendees to “build their Rolodex of contacts.”

Troubled Claims

While advocacy claims management aims to avoid troubled claims, sometimes they’re inevitable. The conference offers help on those, too.


In a session in the track dedicated to medical management, “Getting Difficult, Frustrating and Expensive Claims Unstuck,” medical experts will explain how to first identify the obstacles that delay healing and recovery, then the biopsychosocial interventions that can put claims back on track. Presenters will offer exemplary communications drawn from actual claims that apply to other real-life situations.

“We’re seeing a paradigm shift from ‘claims management’ to ‘injured worker assistance.’ ” — Jill Dulich, claims and operations manager, California Self-Insurers’ Security Fund; board member, 2018 NWCDC

Avoiding, Managing and Winning Workers’ Comp Litigation” addresses both aspects of litigation management: knowing how to prevent court involvement and winning when a trial is inevitable. The speakers, including an expert on workers’ compensation cost containment, will offer advice on hiring the right lawyers and dealing with those who don’t understand the complexity of workers’ comp law.

Another session in the Legal/Legislative Issues track, “Avoiding Unintended Consequences, Obtaining Desired Litigation and Legislation Results,” describes how, without strategic thought and experience, the legislative or legal “solution” to one problem can create worse problems.

Presenters will describe real-world examples of decisions that produced unintended consequences, then offer guidance on how to think more strategically.

Return to Work

The conference devotes three sessions to return-to-work issues. In a general session, “A Powerful Combination: Return-to-Work Strategy with Value-Based Accommodations,” a large media company’s senior disabilities manager will discuss how a strong workplace ADA accommodation program, rather than throwing up productivity roadblocks, can improve employee engagement, loyalty, productivity, presenteeism and the bottom line.

A related session, “A Case Study for Shortening Disability Durations with On-Site Resources,” describes how Norton Healthcare’s pilot program to improve the return-to-work process produced a 4:1 return on investment. In its first phase, the program cut 1,200 lost work days by applying ergonomic best practices, improving accommodations and providing psychosocial support.

2018 NWCDC: For the Techies

The 2018 conference continues the technology track that started in 2017.


Telehealth’s Emerging Role in Workers’ Compensation” discusses bringing high-quality, affordable health care remotely to injured workers, and its limitations. Among the considerations: the employer’s workforce, technology requirements, medical-provider relations, regulations and vendor selection.

Health care is a favorite target of hackers. The presenters in “Health Care Under Attack: Tools for Combating Insider and Third-Party Cybersecurity Risks,” a risk manager and an attorney will discuss technologies for avoiding internal staff errors, managing supply chain and thwarting hackers.

Tech in pain management is addressed as well. Research findings suggest virtual reality and wearable technologies may reduce medical costs while preventing injured workers’ exposure to opioids. Executives from Travelers and Samsung Electronics — partners in testing the effectiveness of a “digital pain-reduction kit” — will explain in “Virtual Reality and Wearables: Alternatives to Pain Medications” how technology may play a future role in workers’ comp pain management. &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]