5 Workers’ Comp Trends Mark Walls and Kimberly George Are Watching in 2020

The workers' compensation industry will face problems both new and familiar as it heads into 2020.
By: | January 13, 2020

Medical marijuana and the opioid epidemic aren’t going away. Health care technology will continue to grow. Changes in the government could have an impact on regulations. 

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These are just a few of the issues Mark Walls, vice president of communications and strategic analysis at Safety National, and Kimberly George, senior vice president of corporate development, M&A and health care at Sedgwick, discussed in their webinar, 2020 Issues to Watch in 2020

During their talk, Walls and George discussed issues both inside and outside of the workers’ compensation industry that are likely to affect several areas within a business.

“This year, we’ve expanded our analysis beyond workers’ compensation and health care. We’re including several issues that impact both risk management and workforce management as all these things ultimately tie together for employers, the businesses we run or our clients,” George said. 

Here are five of the most pressing topics they touched on:

1) Evolving Health Technology

From wearables to telemedicine, health care technology is evolving rapidly. 

Mark Walls, vice president of communications and strategic analysis,Safety National

“If there’s one area I follow that’s exploding, it’s the evolution of health care technology,” George said.

One aspect of health care technology that both Walls and George think will evolve over the next few years is an increase of personalized health care technologies, like FitBits and Apple Watches, which track and collect data on people’s day-to-day health.

“It’s pretty fascinating where we are today and where we’re headed,” George said. “This is surely the case for the Apple of health care, so to speak. Think of Apple Care, the Genius Bar, and what’s in the back of the house? That’s the hospital and doctors.

“This is in no way to say the art of medicine is going away. Rather, that the ecosystem is evolving,” she said.

When it comes to workers’ compensation, these ecosystems could change how those in the industry track and discuss comorbidities. They also could play a role in how a business creates a safe workspace. 

2) Changing Government Environments

It’s no secret that 2020 is slated to be a big election year. With multiple governships, senate seats, the entire House of Representatives and the presidency up for grabs, the makeup of state and federal governments could change drastically and, with that, so could workers’ compensation regulations.

“These elections will have a huge impact on businesses and also the workers’ compensation industry,” Walls said. “When states change governors, you often see new workers’ compensation administrators appointed and these administrators have tremendous influences over industry practices in their state.”

Changes in government leaders and officials can also lead to new legislation and regulations that can affect the industry.  

“Elections also impact major policy issues that Kimberly and I monitor, such as health care, tax law, leave of absence regulations, independent contractor classifications and many others. Make no mistake: Elections have consequences,” Walls said. 

Health care legislation, which has gotten a lot of buzz in the 2020 Democratic primaries, is one such hot button topic that could impact workers’ comp. But while this topic may be getting a lot of attention, Walls and George cautioned that regardless of the outcome of the election big systematic changes take years to go into effect. 

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Focusing on employer-based actions is one way they suggested businesses could address health care quality concerns in the short term. Walls and George also noted the political conversations surrounding health care tend to focus on who’s paying and not on quality of care.   

“Coverage is complicated. We have to wait to see how the 2020 election pans out to better understand what the future may hold. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, system-wide changes require years in the making,” George said. “One of the areas to watch in health care is the employer-led solutions. Walmart’s quality of care centers of excellence model continues to thrive.”  

3) Marijuana 

Marijuana — both recreational and medical — are becoming increasingly common and creating problems for employers. 

“It seems just a matter of time before marijuana is legal on the Federal level,” Walls said. “The science of cannabis has not caught up with the social realities.”

A lack of standardization for marijuana impairment could mean that some workers who have been using the drug are showing up to work while still under the influence and creating safety hazards, according to Walls. This means that a worker who’s using the drug to recover from an injury may be putting themselves in danger without knowing it. 

“Until the science catches up, employers are going to have a difficult time ensuring that employees are not impaired while doing their job,” he said.

New THC breathalyzer tests that are set to become available in 2020, however, could help employers start to manage these concerns. 

4) Pain Management

Pain management will continue to be a hot topic in 2020 as public awareness of the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic continues to increase.

Kimberly George
senior vice president, corporate development, M&A and health care, Sedgwick

Pain is not going away, however, despite the litigation over opioids and the attempt to reduce their usage in workers’ compensation.   

“In spite of society’s increased awareness of the opioid crisis, pain continues and is not going away,” said George. “Pain is real, and patients who have pain should be believed. Patients have pain and pain requires a thoughtful, biopsychosocial and individualized approach to care.”

George suggested that patient-centered, individualized care should be used to address both chronic and acute pain. 

5) Data Privacy and Cyber Security

As technology continues to evolve, data privacy and cyber security concerns will persist, and it’s important businesses have a plan to keep themselves protected.  

“Cyber security and data privacy are huge concerns for businesses in 2020,” Walls said. “In 2019, there were multiple municipalities and hospitals and other businesses that were the victims of ransomware attacks. We even saw one of the largest claims administrators shut down for several days because of a ransomware attack.”

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Consumer privacy is also getting increased attention due to the recent implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect on January 1.

“This is the most extensive and restrictive data privacy regulation ever in the United States,” Walls said. 

The insurance and workers’ compensation communities could be indirectly impacted by these laws, however, due to the fact that other Federal regulations require them to keep some records for a duration of time. 

“These data privacy laws are in direct conflict with record retention regulations that the industry is subject to,” Walls said. “Carriers and claims administrators cannot retain the required database and at the same time delete information on demand.”

As other states, including New York, consider passing similar laws, we should see these issues play out for the industry in 2020. &     

Courtney DuChene is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]